150 NGOs Challenge Democracy Deficit at the WTO and

Focus on the Global South
November 14, 2002

On the eve of the "invitation only" Sydney Mini-Ministerial of the World Trade Organization (WTO), over a 150 NGOs worldwide criticize the failure of the Organization to adhere to democratic principles. The Sydney Mini-Ministerial claims to be a private "unofficial" meeting in which Australia has invited 25 WTO members from all regions of the WTO plus Secretariat Staff to discuss the most contentious issues currently facing the membership: Trips and Health, Market Access and the Singapore issues.

Several WTO government members have also expressed their frustration with the Sydney meeting. "Unless we change the manner in which Ministerials (and the preparation for these ministerials) are conducted, we are wasting our time holding negotiations in Geneva. As deals are done and positions reached when the chosen few meet amongst themselves, and the rest of the membership will be persuaded and coerced to accept such positions and deals, " says Ambassador Boniface Chidayausiku of Zimbabwe.

Invited members argue that such meetings are necessary to achieve consensus in the WTO. However, NGOs challenge such notions as a violation of the very democratic principles enshrined in the constitutions of the powerful member states.

These meetings are fundamentally flawed because: the criteria of countries selected is unknown; no written record is kept of the discussion; decisions are made that affect the entire membership and the agenda is set on their behalf and in their absence; an attempt is made to build ‘consensus' on critical WTO negotiations by a select group which de facto and illegally takes leadership of the organisation.

Earlier this year, 15 WTO countries pushed for creating rules to address democratic consensus building based on the on-going problems at the WTO, however major trading partners have dismissed their proposals as being too "cumbersome."

"WTO agreements oblige governments to undertake serious legislative and regulatory reforms that impact domestic policies not just limited to trade, and therefore it is unacceptable that the WTO, to this date, has failed to devise a system that incorporates all of its members to build a real consensus," said Shefali Sharma from the Institute from Agriculture and Trade Policy's Geneva Office. "It does not matter what one does on substance, if the outcome is pre-determined by a few."

The statement calls on ministers to reject such meetings and for members to sit down and devise an effective and accountable system of decision making that eliminates power politics before any more agreements are added through a false consensus.

"Experience has taught us that decisions taken at these informals have found their way into the formal process of the WTO. This was the case in our preparation for the 4th Ministerial. Positions agreed to at the Mexico and Singapore mini-ministerial found their way into the Draft Ministerial Declaration that was taken at Doha. We are opposed to such mini-ministerials," says Ambassador Chidyausiku.

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