Cancun text sheds ‘development’ from agenda

Geneva, 26 Aug (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - The new round of trade negotiations launched at Doha in November 2001 never had any ‘development’ content in its agenda of negotiations, and those who cobbled it together and issued it through a manipulative and secretive consultation process, did not use that term in the document itself. An initial EU attempt to describe it as ‘development round’ failed to fly at Doha, and later at the UN.

But soon after return from Doha, several of the WTO representatives, whose countries and ministers had played a key role, as facilitators and otherwise, to get the declaration through, tried to project it as a development one - pointing to several items and paragraphs in the work programme, including the paragraphs relating to small economies (para 35); trade, debt and finance (para 36); trade and transfer of technology (para 37), technical cooperation and capacity building (paras38-41), the provisions on least developed countries, special and differential treatment.

All these items were mandated for study, one or two for study and recommendations, others for study and report to the 5th Ministerial Conference.  The Cancun text merely continues this process, without even structured study, and for report to the 6th ministerial conference (and with no prospect of any actions.)

The view of the negotiations being one with a ‘development agenda’ was picked up by governments of the North, including the EC and US, who wanted to use the term to hide their own neo-mercantilist demands on the developing world, as well as many developing countries who found it expedient to use the term and call it ‘Doha Development Agenda’.

The revised Draft Cancun Ministerial Text, issued by the Chairman of the General Council on Sunday night (48 hours later than his initial promise of issuing a draft on 22 August, to enable delegations to consult capitals, and provide their views and reactions at the General Council on 25), puts an end to the myth of the negotiations being a ‘development’ one.

The text in written form was apparently provided by fax to delegations Sunday evening around 19.30 Geneva time, and could be accessed at that time from the Members website of the WTO (accessed through passwords). Delegations of developing countries downloaded it from the website and sent the electronic versions - Job(03)/150/Rev.1 - to their capitals on Sunday night, so that the Capitals could look at them in a hurry and give some instructions. But several delegates said that even by Monday afternoon, there had not been enough time to get instructions from capitals.

[Incidentally, thanks to the Sorbig worm infection plaguing the internet, in many capitals, the email traffic was so slow that even by Monday morning (Geneva time) some capitals had been unable to open their mailboxes to read their mail!  So much for reliance on websites and emails. It is perhaps also a commentary that hit by the worm and threats of attack, Microsoft fell back on an outside program and server that runs on Linux, to safeguard its update website from attack!

[Perhaps, as a contribution to ‘development’, the WTO members might look, as part of their agenda on electronic commerce,for some ‘trade-related rules’ to create obligations on the US to deal with spams, micro-soft and other programs that sell software needing constant updates, and the virus writers who find soft-spots and let loose their ‘worms and viruses’.]

The General Council meeting set for Monday morning was put off, an informal HOD was set for Monday afternoon (and that meeting went on till about 2130).The formal General Council meeting is now set for Tuesday afternoon.

The draft document issued by GC Chair, Amb. Carlos Perez del Castillo, issued “on his own responsibility and in close cooperation with the Director-General”, bears every sign of a rule-less institution with a non-transparent and manipulative process in which, the text was evolved and shaped (and will be sent to the Cancun meeting).

At the informal Heads of Delegation (HOD) meeting of the General Council on Monday afternoon, developing countries and groups of them made known their objections and comments critical of the text, with Brazil calling it “fundamentally flawed” and lacking a “balanced approach”, and cautioning that the text moved “in the wrong direction” and if it did “the Doha Round will fail.”

A number of delegations asked the GC chair to continue his process of informal consultations, and evolve a more balanced text to forward to the ministers at Cancun.

However, GC Chairman Perez del Castillo is quoted in the Financial Times as saying “he intended to stand his ground and resist pressures to re-write large parts of his draft.”

Several of the delegations who criticised the text in the informal meeting (the rules-based organization does not keep any records of who attended such meetings and what was said by whom), appear to be intending to take the floor at the formal meeting of the General Council to bring their views on record - either by speaking or in getting their remarks at the informal session into record in the formal session by presenting a text.

In fact the WTO does not have any clear rules on holding meetings, informal consultations, and bringing into formal record any proposals that could have come only at consultations with a few, or the “confessionals” of the chairs and WTO officials, with individual delegations.

In the revised Cancun draft, on the four Singapore items (investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation) the draft contains under each item proposal to launch negotiations on the basis of modalities listed in an annex, and the alternative of continuing the process of study and clarification of issues.

The proposals for further study and clarification was formally put forward by a group of African countries, members of the ACP group, in an official WTO document, and explained by them at an informal HOD last week, where a number of developing countries spoke in support.

This has been placed on an equal footing with ‘modalities’ formulated by the EC and Japan and other demandeurs, some not even formally but only in informal and restricted consultations.

For example, on the subject of ‘transparency in government procurement’, the chair of that group, the Costa Rican Ambassador, last week held a restricted meeting (of about 10-15 delegations), where the EU and Japan, put forward a paper on modalities. The chair invited comments, but the few participants refused, insisting that any proposal should first be presented to a full meeting where all members could be present and comment or seek clarifications. The Costa Rican chair over-ruled this, according to some participants, but with others refusing to comment, the small consultations ended. But the proposals made there have now been included as one of the alternatives in the revised Cancun text, placed on the same footing as the formal proposal made a group of countries.

On NAMA, the chair, Amb. Pierre-Louis Girard, convened a meeting for 2000 on Friday, and his text was handed out and he recessed the meeting till 2300 hours, advising delegations that in between he was going to hold bilateral and plurilateral consultations. Most delegates did not go home, and waited around, and saw near about 2230, the US delegation coming down from the 1st floor of the WTO building, after consulting with Girard.

At the meeting itself, many delegations criticised several parts of his text, and it became clear that there was no consensus. Girard said he would report that there were still divergences, but that this was the ‘last text’ considered.  Several delegations objected, on the ground that this had a different meaning in the WTO, and the text might thus surface in some other place.

This is what now seems to have happened, by this text being included in the annex of Perez del Castillo.

All this, notwithstanding various public statements and professions to the contrary of the WTO about a transparent and inclusive decision-making in the rules-based multilateral trading system.

WTO officials apparently recently got hot under the collar when some NGOs suggested that even organizations of boy scouts run their business with some order and rules - such as issuing an agenda in advance, drawing up minutes of meeting and presenting them at the next.

And several civil society groups say, based on information they have got from briefings at the WTO for them, that their understanding is that the Cancun meeting may end up with a process as bad as that at Doha. There will be ministerial facilitators to meet ministers and gather their views, several official facilitators to discuss with official negotiators, and that all these may culminate in some drafts produced at the last meeting by the Mexican chair for adoption!

There is perhaps a competition at the WTO, with each GC chair and each DG trying to make his predecessor look better, but there comes a time when countries have to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’.

In the runup to Doha, Mr. Stuart Harbinson as GC chair at least formulated a draft and gave it to delegations, and gave them 2-3 days time to consider and come back to comment, which they did.

The revised draft text for Cancun was in the hands of the Geneva-based delegations only on Sunday evening, and they were asked to comment Monday afternoon at the informal HOD, with the Chairman now refusing to take on board any of the viewpoints, and claiming some authority, for which no one can quote any rule, to send the text on his own personal responsibility without any changes to Cancun.

At Doha, Harbinson and DG Mike Moore, used the occasion of the ceremonial opening to table their texts, thus preventing delegations to object at that stage. Perhaps the WTO may have some other gimmick in store for Ministers at Cancun. This charade will undoubtedly continue at the WTO, until a group of ministers stand up and object to the draft Cancun text being taken up as a basis.

The WTO and the majors have long been justifying their rule-less functioning as needed for efficiency of decision-making in a 145-member organization.

However, other international fora engaged in negotiations with outcomes having considerable political, security and economic consequences for countries seem able to carry on their work with some order and rules, and more important, their agreements and outcomes, get international legitimacy, seem to stick and command public support - something that the WTO seems unable to get. – SUNS5405

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