Doha meet will go ahead, says Moore

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 8 Oct 2001 - “We are serious people and we are continuing the (preparatory) process (for the Doha Ministerial),” said Mr. Mike Moore, the WTO Director-General Monday morning, when talking to the media at the WTO.

Mr. Moore was talking to the media after the visit of the Venezuelan President Mr. Chavez, and was responding to a question from a newsman who asked him, “Since we have a new situation, are you going ahead still with Doha?”

Elsewhere, others in Europe and the US, and the corporate groups, have presented the importance of going ahead with the previous neo-liberal trade agendas, as the best answer to the 11 September attacks on the New York twin-towers, and for reviving the world economy moving into synchronised recession in the major centres (US, EU and Japan) and hitting even more, the developing world.

In promoting such a view of economics and political economy (ignoring history and sounding like JP Morgan and others in the late 1920s) and ignoring the views of even serious mainstream economists (leave aside the counter-orthodox views), the WTO and the leading industrial nations appear to be bent on pursuing policies likely to add to human misery and social disorders.

The weekend G-7/8 meeting of finance ministers of the leading industrial nations in Washington has shown that even in the face of an economic and political crisis facing the world, the finance ministers could not agree on any coordinated policy even among themselves.

Several economists are beginning to voice the view that the revival of the world economy, and reversing the recessionary and deflationary tendencies need coordinated public spending policies, not only in the industrial world, but with complimentary (aid policies, debt cancellation, liquidity, and public financing policies) to enable the developing world to expand demand and consumption.

If against all this background, and the start of what every western leader promises would be a long war against an undefined and unidentifiable enemy, the Moore comments, and the General Council Chair Stuart Harbinson-led efforts to continue with the ‘consultations’ processes on a draft declaration, gave a bizarre ‘business as usual’ air to the WTO, it really is due to the nature of the WTO, its partisan secretariat and leadership, and the desire to push ahead with the agenda of the majors, particularly the US and the EC, and use the ‘war on terrorism’ to push neo-mercantilist and corporate agendas at the WTO with the battle-cry of ‘if you are not with us, you are against us.’

On Sunday, Mr. Harbinson convened a rare (for Sunday) Heads of Delegations meeting, where he held consultations on paras 14-17 of his draft declaration for Doha - Job(01)/140 - relating to the TRIPS negotiations, and then began consultations on paras 27-28 relating to ‘Trade and Environment’. He appears to have indicated that he would be circulating Monday (as part of the transparency exercise) to delegations the text on agriculture, to fill in some details of para 11 of his Ministerial draft. He had called in some 20 or 22 delegations Thursday last week, and read out the text to them (indicating it was not his own).

Some participants at the Sunday meeting came away with the overall impression that Mr. Harbinson is essentially ‘testing out’ (as he did on agriculture) on a smaller number of key delegations texts being evolved elsewhere (by the US, EC, and the secretariat), and then circulating it to the membership.

The idea appears to be to present them as texts most likely to command consensus, showing the objections from protagonists on either side as proof of its ‘neutrality’ and with a view to forcing through a ‘clean text’ - with as few if not only one or two alternatives - on his own responsibility and go ahead and forward it to the Ministers at Doha.

The Sunday consultations were held and adjourned (to be continued, on the two ‘Trade and Environment’ paras of his draft) again Monday afternoon, with trade diplomats continuing to ‘negotiate’ as if events outside had no relationship - even as they were trying to sound each other and others outside with experience of politics, security and other issues on whether the Doha meeting could go ahead and take place or not.

Some trade diplomats said that while the Emir of Qatar was in the United States (having met President Bush and US officials in Washington, and travelled to New York), the Qatar mission itself was asking and sounding out Third World delegations about whether they had heard ‘any rumours’ about the Doha meeting (leaving the impression that they themselves were unsure and were seeking reassurance), and in the process suggesting to other countries that those who would use the situation to suggest postponement or cancellation would be viewed as ‘unfriendly’.

Several trade diplomats said that without ‘specific instructions’ from their capitals, they could not broach such an issue, with deep political and security overtones, at the WTO here, but continue to think (or hope) that last-minute postponement or cancellation of the meeting was inevitable.

There is the general desire not to say anything that may be used to present critics as supporters of the Taliban or terrorism, or disregarding the ‘horrendous crimes’ in New York.

However, the Sunday consultations took place before news broke of the US, UK long-range ship- and submarine-based missile and long-range bomber and stealth-bomber strikes against the ‘centre of gravity’ of the Taliban in Afghanistan (as the US has described it), the public statements of the US, UK and France etc that it would be a ‘long fight’, and news of the outbreak of protests from Muslims in the region, as well as reports of ‘dissident clerics’ in the Gulf and elsewhere threatening ‘fatwas’ against Gulf rulers who are cooperating with the US “by hand, by tongue or by money”.

One observer from an international organization said Monday that even in a normal situation it would have been ‘fool-hardy’ to hold a trade ministers’ meeting now (when several other events have been cancelled or postponed, in the aftermath of the 11 September events - the Fund/Bank meetings in Washington DC, the general debate at the UN General Assembly where foreign ministers assemble, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia).

However, holding a trade ministers meeting to launch a controversial round of new trade negotiations, and holding the meeting in a region where there is an explosive mix of emotions and feelings, with almost everyone privately raising several questions about the various implications, but no one ready to formally raise it at the meeting, is bizarre and foolhardy, the observer added.

The Sunday consultations on TRIPS (which did not directly address the TRIPS and Public Health issues that are high on the global agenda) did not appear to have ‘bridged’ any particular gaps among protagonists.

The descriptions of the US-UK led missile and other attacks on the “centre of gravity of the Taliban” in Afghanistan, and the talk of use of laser-guided and precision bombing (and not the carpet bombing of the second world war, as the BBC and the CNN reported) seemed, for those who have a long enough memory, to the US (Pentagon and White House, under Lyndon Johnson) like descriptions during the Vietnam war of taking out the ‘control and command’ centres of the ‘Vietcong’ - in South Vietnam and in the North.

And there is also the talk (on talk-shows, and by ‘experts’, with expertise based on the jungle war in Vietnam and the more recent Bosnia and Kosovo campaigns, who were interviewed and broadcast on CNN and BBC), about the opponents of the Taliban and dissidents within, and Afghan tribal leaders, trying to repudiate their leaders and form other alliances or strike deals with the US.

In the consultations on the mandate for TRIPS issues, the mandated reviews, paras14-17 of the Harbinson draft - Job(01)/140 - while there was broad support for para 14 (for completing negotiations on establishment of a multilateral system of notifications and registration of geographical indications, GI, for wines and spirits), Turkey and India said they could not agree to this, without also a mandate for extension of protection and notification for geographical indications to other products.

The Harbinson text, in para 15, calls for the TRIPS Council to examine this issue of possible negotiations.

Proponents had rejected the para as it stood, given that it merely mandated an examination, but wanted an examination leading to a recommendation (for starting negotiations).

The consultations showed some sharp divisions - with Uruguay, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile - vehemently opposed to any such extension. A number of others including Bulgaria, India, the Czech Republic, and the EC favoured TRIPS Council’s examination leading to a report for negotiations.

Bulgaria, at the end, noted that this was not the time to enter into discussions on the justification for negotiations (or otherwise) to extend the GI protection to other products. However, it should be borne in mind by opponents that if negotiations were barred it would frustrate 70-80 countries wanting such additional protection, and this would have implications in other areas.

On the para (16) about TRIPS and the CBD, there was a general feeling that the para incorporated too many disparate issues and needed re-drafting.

African group, supported by Brazil, India and several others said it was not enough to ask the TRIPS Council merely to ‘give due attention’ to the issue of relationships between TRIPS and CBD, and that there should be a strengthened mandate. As for the idea in the para that the TRIPS agreement “should keep abreast of new technologies”, a number of delegations said they did not know what this meant and hence they could not accept such a wide and loose formulation.

As for the mandate to the TRIPS Council (para 17) to report on the progress of its work to the General Council and to the 5th Ministerial, several members said it would depend on the overall picture, including the idea of a single undertaking.

On the trade and environment issue, the EC presented a paper with two options, and some of the participants said the differences between the two options were somewhat nebulous.

One EC option involved commitment to negotiations to clarify WTO rules, in full conformity with WTO principles and a commitment not to agree to any protectionist devices, and for the CTE to report to the 5th Ministerial Conference. The second option, also committing members to negotiations, had the additional proviso setting out some of the elements, and enabling members to outline their ideas and proposals.

The EC presented and explained its proposals and options, before the meeting adjourned, to resume consideration of the question in consultations on Monday.

Harbinson would appear to have indicated that this would be followed by further consultations on investment and competition and other new issues in his draft. – SUNS4983

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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