Ministerial’s fate hangs on a thread
Cancun 14 Sept (Martin Khor) - The fate of the Cancun Ministerial Conference hung on a thread as the last scheduled day began, after a long heads-of-delegation (HOD) meeting last night which heard heavy criticism by many developing countries of the second revised draft Cancun Ministerial Text issued on 13 September.
As one developing country Minister after another attacked the draft, the Conference chairman, the Mexican Trade Minister said it may not be possible for agreement to be reached in time before the Conference ends.
Last night’s HOD meeting lasted from 7 pm to 1 am. Following that, Ministers from nine countries, without any aides, were invited to a mini-Green Room meeting to discuss the Singapore Issues, which lasted for two hours. The countries were US, EU, India, China, Brazil, Malaysia, Kenya, South Africa and Mexico.
Today, a Green Room meeting of about 30 countries will be convened at 8 a.m. and another HOD meeting was scheduled at noon.
It is not known whether a new draft will be produced. There is so much division and acrimony over yesterday’s draft Text that it would be almost impossible for the divide to be bridged quickly enough by a second draft, several trade diplomats from developing countries said.
There is so much dissatisfaction and anger among so many developing countries that the usual attempt used at Ministerials by the major developed countries to bulldoze through a text at the last minute may not work this time.
This last-day crisis has ultimately been brought about by the very untransparent and non-participatory way in which the drafting of the successive drafts of the Ministerial text has been undertaken.
At Cancun itself, the drafting has technically been left to the Facilitators to carry out. The five facilitators, who were appointed and not elected, “supervised” the drafting of texts on issues under their mandate (and at least in some cases it is known that the Secretariat had significant role in preparing the drafts).
After the reports or texts were passed on by Facilitators to the Conference chairperson, revision of parts of the texts were carried out by the Conference chairperson under his supervision.
This emerged from the HOD meeting when one of the facilitators revealed that parts of the text he prepared were changed in the overall text that was issued, and the Mexican Minister then revealed that he had redrafted portions of the texts given to him.
During the drafting process, no role was given to the delegates, whose functions had been confined to providing oral or written inputs at HOD meetings or bilateral meetings with the facilitators.
Thus, delegates ended up negotiating not with one another but with the facilitators or the Ministerial chairperson. And the delegations did not see the revised text until 13 September at 1pm, which is already very late in the Conference schedule.
The usual attempt by the Conference chairperson to generate a sense of crisis (that time is running out) and the usual appeal to accept the draft, however imperfect, does not seem to have worked this time as many developing countries found that their views, even when collectively put forward by groupings of 30 or even as many as 80 countries had been ignored, and that instead clear and unfair bias had been shown towards the major developed countries.
This bias was most blatantly evident in the text on the Singapore issues. Although 70 developing countries had formally submitted a letter to the Facilitator, the Canadian Minister, stating their views against the launching of negotiations on all four issues, together with annexed language to that effect for all those issues, the 13 September Cancun draft still carried decisions to directly launch negotiations on two issues (trade facilitation and government procurement) whilst indirectly launching negotiations on one issue (investment) and half launching on the remaining issue (competition).
This has generated a profound sense of frustration and outrage among many of the countries that have been clearly stating their no-negotiations position.
Similarly, the 32 developing countries that have been championing stronger language for special products in the agriculture text were angry that their concerns were not at all addressed. The Group of 21 developing countries on agriculture have also found that the agriculture annex has been hardly changed, and they expressed dissatisfaction with the draft.
And the African countries that had so effectively highlighted their case for reform to the cotton subsidy regime were outraged at the paragraph on the cotton initiative which offered them “peanuts or less than nothing”, as one angry diplomat put it.
At the HOD last night, as one developing country after another attacked the process and the substance of the text, it became clearer and clearer that the Ministerial and indeed the WTO system itself was facing a major crisis of confidence.
Botswana Minister, Jacob Nkate, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of ACP, African Union and LDCs, said in a statement to the HOD meeting that the text falls far short of the countries’ expectations and did not address their concerns. The text is creating an imbalance in the delicately negotiated Doha work programme.
He expressed disappointment with the text on the cotton initiative which does not provide the desired solution. On Singapore issues, the text has departed from the Doha mandate on the explicit consensus requirement. “What it represents is unacceptable to us since it is not based on explicit consensus. Therefore there cannot be negotiations on these issues. Further, the linkage to other issues is surprising and also totally unacceptable to us”, referring particularly to the linking in the text between agriculture modalities and the Singapore issues.
Indian Minister Arun Jaitley said that with this text the pretence of development dimensions of the Doha agenda has finally been discarded and shown to be mere rhetoric. On agriculture, the text not only perpetuates the distortions but proposes a slew of new measures to increase such distortions, giving as examples the enlargement of the Blue Box and the allowing of export subsidies to continue and increase through a new parallelism process. “We are compounding the Uruguay Round distortions by adding some more to them,” he said, adding that the heightened ambition on the market access pillar is “utterly incomprehensible and extremely insensitive to the large number of people living in poverty in developing countries.”
On Singapore issues, Mr Jaitley criticized the Chairman for ignoring the views of a majority of members who have rejected launching negotiations. “It would appear that the views expressed by a large number of developing countries on the need for further clarification have been completely ignored. This is yet another instance of the deliberate neglect of views of a large number of developing countries. It represents an attempt to thrust the views of a few countries on many developing countries.”
He added that the revised text has arbitrarily disregarded views and concerns expressed by India. “We wonder now whether development here refers to only further development of the developed countries. This text does not lend itself to any meaningful dialogue. We still believe this conference must be brought to a successful conclusion. We hope the circumstances and environment will be created to enable us to participate constructively.”
Brazilian Minister, Celso Amorim, said the draft is considerably far from being a base for an agreement and in some points it actually goes backwards. The preamble of the three pillars and para 7 try to rewrite and reinterpret the Doha mandates and are detrimental. On internal support, the commitments relating to AMS and Blue Box are insufficient and may lead to increase in support measures, whilst in market access there is lack of balance between commitments by developed and developing countries. The text also legalizes subsidized export credits which is counter to AOA article 10.1.
Barbados Minister, Ms Billie Miller, speaking for the Caribbean Group, said the text falls short of the Caribbean’s requirements and is not development-oriented. Few of the Caribbean’s proposals on agriculture have been reflected. On NAMA, the text makes no concession on any of the Caribbean Group’s concerns, such as its opposition to a non-linear approach and to compulsory sectoral liberalization and supplementary modalities.
On Singapore issues, Caribbean countries oppose launching negotiations on government procurement and trade facilitation as all countries in the region are already overburdened with negotiations, are concerned about the potential negative effects of these issues and no explicit consensus on modalities exist.
Antigua and Barbuda Minister Sir Ronald Sanders said his delegation attended the sessions on many issues. But “we do not recognize in this text the consensus we heard articulated in those groups on the development issues, small economy issue and Singapore issues. What we see in this text is unsatisfactory and disappointing. And on cotton we believe the response in para 27 to the arguments put forward to Africa is insulting and unworthy of this organization.”
There is nothing in this text that addresses our high tariff dependency and the importance of ensuring we are not forced to reduce or eliminate our tariffs, he added. During this conference, we also made it clear that regarding Singapore issues we are gravely constrained. “Therefore we cannot agree to Annexes D and E nor to paras 14, 15 of the text. We did not hear any explicit consensus on these matters and reject absolutely any proposal that any negotiating group on these issues should be appointed.
“My government has a duty to care for its people. Were we to accept this document we would deserve our people’s condemnation. For we would not only have gained no relief for them, we would have condemned them to a life of perpetual underdevelopment. And that my delegation will not do. I have to advise that this draft does not enjoy the support of my government.” – SUNS5418
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