By Chakravarthi RaghavanATTAC
June 20, 2003
From Monday to Wednesday, public interest civil society groups, as well as several developing-country government participants, at various panel sessions at a public symposium at the WTO, identified the non-transparent and undemocratic decision-making processes at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the main reason for the organization's bad image.
The same message apparently was given by some NGO leaders on Sunday to the head of the World Trade Organization, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, who has been trying to get a range of non-governmental organizations to be in an advisory group to dialogue with him and the secretariat from time to time on WTO related issues. However, on Thursday at an informal Heads-of-Delegation (HOD) meeting convened by the Chairman of the General Council, Mr. Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay, it became more evident that whatever the growing public protests and clamour outside, the informal non-transparent and non-inclusive processes of drafting and decision-making will continue during the preparatory processes leading up to the 5th Ministerial at Cancun, and at Cancun too.
In fact even apart from the demands of the civil society, for over a year now, the WTO and its General Council has before it a proposal signed by a group of developing countries calling for orderly procedures in the preparations for future WTO ministerial meetings and at the meetings themselves -- procedures that are well-accepted as norms in any conclave or organization of sovereign independent states, even in those where ultimately 'Power' prevails.
Only in the multilateral trading system, first under the old GATT and now the more binding WTO, has a different culture of decision-making been in practice as the norm, as a result of which the powerful not only prevail but pretend and announce a non-existing consensus. Neither the power-brokers in the secretariat nor the majors are willing to give it up, and increasingly even those parts of civil society within countries and internationally who want a system and rules, are beginning to realize that the WTO is incurable, and may need to be closed down as a system of rules covering trade and non-trade issues.
At the informal HOD meeting, Perez del Castillo cited the relevant paragraphs of the Doha declaration and work program, and said that the purpose of the Cancun meeting would be for ministers to take stock and give any necessary political guidance. The declaration draft for the consideration of ministers, and for adoption, would thus not be like that at Doha - since no decisions are to be taken, but only the progress on the work program is to be reviewed. Perez del Castillo and the WTO Director-General and Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee outlined the time schedules ahead - a TNC meeting on 14-15 July to hear reports from chairs of various negotiating bodies, and the TNC chair in turn reporting to the General Council meeting on 24-25 July. As now envisaged, the General Council chairman will have a first draft for the Ministerial Declaration by end July. After July, frequent meetings at informal HOD consultations by the Director-General and the General Council are to be held to consider the draft, and a check-list of issues prepared and circulated would be the instrument for managing the process.
The checklist sets out the subjects of on-going work for Ministers at Cancun to review and provide necessary political guidance:
The checklist adds that it should also be noted that consultations are continuing in pursuit of the TNC's mandate to take appropriate action on Implementation-related issues and concerns in accordance with paragraph 12 (b) of the Ministerial Declaration, and at the level of the General Council on S&D Treatment issues, following the report by the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development in February.
Also listed are work in the General Council and other bodies reporting to it on outstanding issues:
"The Fifth Session will decide by explicit consensus on the modalities of negotiations."
Malaysia proposed that this checklist should be 'frozen' (i.e. no additional subjects should be added) in the preparations for Cancun. This was opposed by Canada and New Zealand. Some other diplomats said it was not clear whether (apart from opposing a fully transparent and participatory preparatory process and the reflection of different views to the Ministers) these countries opposed the Malaysian proposal because they wanted to bring in new issues, or merely to leave the scope open, or just cussedness in opposing suggestions from developing countries.
Dr. Supachai also indicated that in terms of the mid-July TNC meeting, some chairs of the negotiating bodies had told him that they could update, on their own responsibility, and give reports on the progress in their groups, and that he would encourage others to do so. This really means that even where the negotiating groups have concluded their substantive work before Cancun, the chairs could make any report based on their perceptions! In other matters, during the discursions at the informal HOD meeting, Mexico, India and the US wanted the draft declaration to be brought out as soon as possible, with the US suggesting a 'skeletal draft' even if it could not be fully fleshed out. However, the General Council chair reportedly did not believe it would be helpful.
A number of developing countries wanted the draft to be prepared on the basis of views and inputs at open-ended consultations, and where there was no consensus, to clearly indicate the differing positions or views. Canada opposed this, arguing that there had been no consensus on this proposal that had been made by several developing countries. New Zealand insisted that the chair's draft should be based not only on inputs in the consultations, but also any bilateral and other consultations held with delegations.
Even a 'simple' demand from Malaysia at the informal HOD meeting, that the preparatory process and the content of any draft declaration should not bring in issues not already listed in the chairman's check-list of issues, and that any draft sent to Cancun from the General Council should, in the absence of consensus, clearly reflect the differing positions, was not acceptable to Canada and New Zealand, who often act as surrogates and speak when the US and EC do not want to come into the open.
Judged by the stance of the majors, even when they speak through 'allies', and of the WTO leadership, the preparatory processes for the 5th Ministerial at Cancun - the drafting of a declaration for Ministers and the way issues would be presented to them for clarification or decision, will be more or less the same as the non-transparent, undemocratic processes that have characterised the 55-year-old trading system and there is no certainty that more new issues will not be smuggled in at Cancun.
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