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Statement by U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Tonga

Statement by U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Tonga

World Trade Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
February 11 , 2014

 *As Prepared for Delivery*

On behalf of the United States, I would like to welcome the delegation of Tonga, headed by Mr. Viliami Latu, Minister for Commerce, Tourism and Labor, along with the entire Tongan delegation, to Tonga’s first WTO Trade Policy Review since its accession in 2007.  I would also like to extend our deep sympathies to the people of Tonga for the loss of life and property as a result of Cyclone Ian as well as our wishes for a speedy recovery.  We thank the Secretariat and the Government of Tonga for their informative reports.  We also thank Ambassador Adank for his observations as the discussant during this important milestone in Tonga’s WTO membership.   

We commend Tonga for undertaking important reforms since its accession and are encouraged by its comments that its WTO membership has been and continues to be a key catalyst to the legislative, regulatory, and administrative reforms which are necessary to revitalize Tonga’s economy.  As highlighted by the Secretariat, Tonga has undertaken economic reforms to reduce the cost of living, improve the investment climate, lower the cost of doing business, taken steps to restructure the public service, and pursued political reforms in response to civil unrest in 2006.  That Tonga has taken these in the face a global economic crisis which caused a decline in tourism and remittances, is especially encouraging. 

We were pleased to see Transparency International’s January 2013 assessment that Tonga has taken significant steps forward to fight corruption and improve the country’s governance.  As Tonga pursues its vision to “develop and promote a just, equitable and progressive society in which the people of Tonga enjoy good health, peace, harmony and prosperity, in meeting in their aspirations in life,” we encourage it, among other actions, to take steps to remove gender-based impediments so that women entrepreneurs, farmers and business-owners can fully participate in global trade.  

Chair, we welcomed the opportunity to submit questions to the Government of Tonga, including related to the structure of government agencies responsible for foreign trade policy, investment and business facilitation. We thank the delegation of Tonga for its attention to our questions and will examine carefully the written responses we have received.

We would appreciate an update on Tonga’s process for consideration of a National Food bill that provides for the establishment of a single regulatory agency, and information regarding its plans to notify this bill and corresponding regulations to the WTO.  In addition, we are interested in better understanding the status of Tonga’s draft law on intellectual property enforcement, including what mechanisms it includes to discourage infringement and strengthen enforcement at the border, and in Tonga’s national strategy for intellectual property regarding traditional knowledge and culture.  As noted in our written questions, we would appreciate Tonga’s response to our question as to whether it will investigate the high rates for terminating international phone calls being charged in the country, resulting in foreign carriers rerouting calls through other countries and ultimately weakening Tonga’s connectivity to the rest of the world. 

Looking forward, we hope that the economic recovery will increase tourism in Tonga, which in turn will support transport, hotels, commerce, other services, and broad economic growth.  We encourage the Government of Tonga’s continued focus on policy goals to modernize and streamline regulatory reforms, to encourage investment, and to facilitate business. 

In closing, Chair, we again want to express our appreciation for the opportunity to participate in Tonga’s first WTO Trade Policy Review.  Considering the clear challenges in participating as a WTO Member without a Geneva mission, we remain committed to working with Tonga to implement its WTO obligations and help it maximize the benefits of its WTO membership. 

We appreciate Tonga’s engagement in this process, and look forward to continued work with Tonga and other Members to support the rules-based multilateral trading system.  Thank you.