November 4, 2002
NGOs Call on Trade Ministers to reject EXCLUSIVE-MINI MINISTERIALS AND GREEN ROOM MEETINGS IN THE RUN UP TO, AND AT THE 5TH WTO MINISTERIAL. The 14-16 November mini-ministerial in Australia is a step in the wrong direction for the WTO.
Civil society groups from around the world call upon the 145 WTO member states and their trade ministers to follow transparent and inclusive procedures and reject the use of "unofficial" and exclusive mini-ministerials in the run-up to the WTO's Fifth Ministerial in Cancun and of Green Room meetings during Cancun.
Participation in these mini-ministerials and Green Room meetings is by invitation only, and includes about twenty-five countries, yet they discuss critical WTO matters affecting all member states. The use of such exclusionary meetings to build consensus among the few which is then presented to the majority as a take-it-or-leave-it package, must be rejected by WTO member states as clearly undemocratic and in violation of the one-country-one-vote and consensus system of the WTO.
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. The holding of such illegitimate and "unofficial" mini-ministerials and Green Room meetings should not be accepted by WTO members. This process violates the spirit of international cooperation and undermines democratic principles for an international institution that creates legally binding and enforceable agreements for 145 governments worldwide.
The historical record of the WTO shows that before the WTO Ministerial meetings in Singapore (1996), Seattle (1999) and Doha (2001), mini-ministerials were held to promote the goals of the major developed countries. The same process is now taking place on the road to Cancun. The major powers in the WTO regularly make use of such "mini-ministerials" to pressure developing countries to accept their positions which have been contrary to the interests of development.
Such meetings substantiate the endemic problems of transparency that have plagued the WTO since its inception in 1995. As recently as May 2002, a group of fifteen developing countries put forward recommendations addressing critical transparency problems affecting balanced and fair decision-making in the WTO. These concerns currently remain unaddressed.
Doha represented raw power politics and a non-transparent and non-inclusive process of consensus building. The two mini-ministerials held before Doha continued in the form of "Green Room' meetings in Doha with the same configuration of 23 or so countries. After an unauthorised extension of the Ministerial and a final all-night marathon, the final package was presented to the other delegations in the absence of many of their Ministers, who were unable to accommodate the unexpected extension of the Ministerial meeting. Attempts by other delegates to make changes to that final package were prevented on the excuse that there was no time, and that the package would fall apart like a "house of cards". In such a context, it becomes nearly impossible for developing countries to stand up for views that are contrary to those already determined in the "Green Room" meetings. Most are afraid that they would face a multitude of repercussions, political and trade-related, including the suspension of trade preferences to the US and EU markets, investment and aid. Some developing country representatives, invited to such meetings feel that it is better to be present to put forward their countries' interests, than to boycott these meetings.
In addition, WTO Secretariat staff, supposed to be neutral "international bureaucrats" often advocate positions of the powerful members, for example, by encouraging negotiations on new issues. A dangerous precedent has also recently been set. The Secretariat is now bulldozing its way into Member's territory. Hong Kong's former Ambassador to the WTO, Stuart Harbinson, is continuing in his position as Chair of Agriculture negotiations, despite recently taking leave from government and joining the Secretariat as the Director General's Chef de Cabinet, hence breaking the rules of neutrality. It must be recalled that Harbinson, as former Chair of the General Council before Doha, was responsible for submitting to Doha a draft declaration that did not reflect the views of developing countries. Many delegates are now wary of the same antics he may try out in his present position in Agriculture.
The illegitimate process in Doha, and the active role of a biased Secretariat led to a Declaration which endorses the possibility of launching new negotiations in investment, competition and government procurement at the Fifth Ministerial. This method of expanding the WTO agenda is unacceptable, yet it seems that this is again being used in the run-up to Cancun.
WTO agreements oblige governments to undertake serious legislative and regulatory reforms that impact domestic policies not just limited to trade. The agreements have significant political, social and economic consequences. The repercussions of the TRIPS Agreement on access to medicines is only one example. A World Bank report by Michael Finger estimates that administration costs for implementing even three of the WTO agreements costs developing countries up to $150 million/year.
Given the impact on the lives of people around the world, it is critical that final WTO decisions are a result of a consultative process that reflects public debate in each member state. Civil society condemns the illegitimate mechanism of these "unofficial" and secretive meetings to manufacture a false "consensus".
There is currently no political will to create a democratic system of decision-making by the most powerful WTO members who benefit from the informal system which they can control. As a result, current efforts are being systematically undermined.
We therefore call upon all WTO Members to:
1) Reject "exclusive" mini-ministerial and Green Room meetings where only a select group of WTO Members are invited to discuss the WTO agenda behind closed doors.
2) Devise inclusive and transparent mechanisms to build consensus amongst its membership rather than resorting to an "exclusive club" of members.
3) Demand that negotiating texts produced by the Chairpersons of each committee and drafts of Ministerial Declarations reflect the various views put forward by all parties, and not just those of more powerful members.
4) Stop the use of bilateral political and economic pressures by developed countries on other developing countries that force them into a false "consensus" at the WTO at the cost of their real development concerns.
5) Create written and accountable rules of decision making in the WTO that are transparent and democratic and address day-to-day WTO negotiations, preparatory process for the Ministerial meetings and Ministerials themselves. Specifically:
All countries should be notified of all consultations taking place, and they must be allowed to attend all meetings. The excuse of "efficiency" must no longer be used to exclude the majority. There must be transparent and democratic procedures for the selection of Chairs of WTO committees and the exact role and mandate of the Chairs should be defined. Secretariat Staff must take seriously the development mandate emerging from Doha. Secretariat staff should not be allowed to chair WTO committees as the Secretariat is supposed to play a neutral and a purely administrative role. Devise an effective democratic consensus building mechanism where power politics is monitored and eliminated. This must include proper minutes of all meetings that are circulated amongst all members, inclusion of dissenting views in minutes and negotiating texts, and voting as mandated in Article IX.1 if there is no consensus. Members invited to the Sydney Mini-Ministerial include:
Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Egypt, the European Commission, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, the US and one representative from the Caribbean.
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