TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Mar18/03)
13 March 2018
Third World Network

WTO can't be immune to concerns on globalization impact
Published in SUNS #8639 dated 12 March 2018

Geneva, 9 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization can no longer remain immune to the "growing concerns about the impact of globalization, trade and trade agreements on job security, inequality and development," the former General Council chair Ambassador Xavier Carim from South Africa cautioned o n 7 March.

In his final statement at the General Council on Wednesday, before handing over to Japan's trade envoy Ambassador Junichi Ihara, Ambassador Carim said the developing countries had repeatedly raised serious concerns about globalization and its harmful implications, particularly the widening inequalities and interminable under-development.

The "fact that similar concerns are now more strongly voiced by citizens across developed countries is a significant new development and manifests in ways that deeply affect our work," Ambassador Carim said.

Quoting President Nelson Mandela, at the WTO's second ministerial conferenc e in 1998 at the 50th anniversary, the former GC chair suggested it is important to ensure that new rules are not "prescriptive" and benefit only a "few" members.

Ambassador Carim quoted President Mandela as saying at the 1998 50th anniversary commemoration meeting of the multilateral trading system (MTS): "Rules must be applied ... but if they contain prescriptions that cannot be complied with by all, or if the results benefit too few, then injustice will emerge. Then it is prudent to remember that no amount of rules or their enforcement will defeat those who struggle with justice on their side."

Referring to the decisions "taken by consensus" at the WTO, Ambassador Cari m said, "the ongoing and practical expressions of the principles of transparency and inclusivity are a baseline for fairer, more inclusive and developmental multilateralism."

Therefore, "at a minimum, inclusivity requires that our processes and decisions fully take into account the views of Members from the different geographic regions, at different levels of development, but the decisions and processes should also fully engage with the competing policy perspectives and priorities of Members," he emphasized.

Speaking about the role of the GC which "oversees all the regular work of the organization related to the on- going implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements and subsequent Ministerial decisions," Ambassador Carim said, "four of the five Decisions taken at MC11 will need to be carried forward under the General Council."

The four decisions include the ministerial decision to continue work on fisheries subsidies, work program on electronic commerce, TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints, and work program on small economies.

After being the Chair of the Council for the past one year, he said he has "a much better appreciation of the myriad of processes, procedures, and decisions that shape the day-to-day workings of the organization."

"Effective decision making at this level is vital for the proper functioning of the organization and, generally, these processes and decisions are uncomplicated," he said.

But, "where procedures are not set out precisely, and where [the] discretionary action is called for, transparency and inclusivity may be even more important to build the trust that is needed to advance our collective multilateral work, " Ambassador Carim said.

Giving an account of the challenges encountered last year in the run-up to the failed Buenos Aires ministerial meeting, he said, "at the outset, we ran into a serious delay in appointing Chairs of the regular and negotiating bodies."

Further, "at the May General Council, we encountered difficulties in adopting the Council agenda," he said, arguing that, "I understand that all the difficulties reflect the seriousness that Members attach to all aspects of the work of the organization, and are an expression of their legitimate interests."

In May last year, India had blocked the inclusion of investment facilitation in the GC agenda, noting that such an issue was not part of the WTO agenda and the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO.

"In many instances," Ambassador Carim said, "the key to addressing the challenges is to frame and approach the issues in ways that give sufficient comfort to all Members that their concerns are being taken on board - in an even-handed manner."

"It seems to me - and this is personal - that if there is any bias, it should favour the less developed members amongst us," Ambassador Carim emphasized.

He said the preparations for MC11 [WTO's eleventh ministerial conference in Buenos Aires] consumed most of the time last year.

"But sensitive issues, particularly issues regarding observer status, raise difficulties that are sometimes beyond resolution at the WTO," Ambassador Carim said, suggesting "the work we undertook just before MC11 on both the Outcome Document and on e-commerce was positive."

He said there was a "genuine attempt and constructive attempt to narrow differences amongst Members, even though, ultimately, we were unsuccessful. "

Ambassador Carim expressed his gratitude to the Chairs of the Regular Bodies as the work they oversaw allowed the General Council to deliver comprehensive reports of all our work to Ministers at the opening of MC11.

He congratulated "Argentina for a well-organised Ministerial Conference tha t many have said met high standards of inclusivity and transparency."

Despite, "a few troubling moments," Ambassador Carim said "the experience o f chairing the General Council has been a rewarding one - personally and professionally - and in ways I had not foreseen just one year ago."

He thanked " Roberto [Azevedo], for our collaboration over the course of th e year, particularly in the run-up to and at MC11."

Ambassador Carim praised the WTO Secretariat, saying that it "is a reservoir of accumulated institutional knowledge."

"The WTO is a Member-driven organization but it is absolutely clear that th e Secretariat is a valuable asset and an indispensable pillar of the system," Ambassador Carim said.

"In light of the challenges we confront with respect to the WTO's negotiating function and dispute settlement function, we may need to pay greater attention and - indeed we are duty bound - to protect the international stature of the Secretariat by ensuring it always remains above the partisan positions Members take on issues," he argued.

However, several other trade envoys including some from Africa, who preferred not to be quoted, expressed sharp concern and disappointment at the manner in which the preparations were made on the mandated issues for the MC11.

According to one trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted, Roberto Azevedo, WTO's director-general and chair for Doha Trade Negotiations Committee, did not hold round-the-clock meetings on finalizing the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security as he did for trade facilitation in the run-up to the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali in December 2013.

Days before members proceeded to the Buenos Aires meeting, the chair for th e Doha agriculture negotiations Ambassador Stephan Karau of Kenya held a meeting to discuss the possibility of issuing a draft text to ensure that the US remained on board for a final decision on the permanent solution, according to an African envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

At that meeting, according to the envoy, Azevedo apparently said that the draft must be finalized in Buenos Aires, a step that enabled the United States to block the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security.

Also, during a closed-door meeting at Buenos Aires, in which the director-general and the chair of the conference Ms. Susana Malcorra were present, the facilitator for agriculture negotiations Ms Amina Mohamed threatened to take the next flight to Nairobi if some attempts to undermine the outcome on agriculture are not stopped, said a source, who asked not to be quoted.

The director-general held Ms Mohamed's hands and requested her not to take such a decision, assuring such a thing will not happen, according to the source.

In a similar vein, the so-called plurilateral declarations on electronic commerce, domestic regulation for services, investment facilitation, and disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises did not come out of the blue in Buenos Aires, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

The role played by the director-general and his office in preparing those controversial declarations - on electronic commerce, domestic regulation fo r services, investment facilitation, and disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises - were already known in September 2017.

That Azevedo was preparing the ground for those initiatives as part of Plan B for the Buenos Aires meeting was well known (see SUNS #8538 dated 25 September 2017).

The failure of MC11 was thus perhaps built-in.