Doha Ministerial to open amidst continued uncertainty

Doha, 9 Nov (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - On the eve of the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, there were increasing signs that the US and the EU, and the secretariat, were trying to stage a ‘consultative’ process here through facilitators to enable a manipulated outcome for launching a new round of trade negotiations.

The process for six working groups with facilitators ‘consulting’ delegations for their views and then coming up with their ‘best judgement’ compromise that is being promoted here, a few hours before the official opening Friday evening, will be an even more non-transparent process for launching a round reflecting all the ideas of the US and EU, like the Harbinson-Moore drafts to the Conference.

At a meeting of the Like-Minded Group, where India brought up the proposals being floated for working groups and facilitators, the Group agreed with several members that the meetings should be open-ended and not be on the basis of ‘invitations’ and that the facilitators could not be authorized to present compromises on the basis of their ‘best judgement’. The facilitators could only present to the Committee of the Whole, the points of consensus and those not having any consensus, and that the decision-making could only be in the Committee of the Whole.

Sonny Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, now at the conference representing one of the Caribbean countries, said that the task and preoccupations of the WTO should be to ‘implementing the past, clarify the present, and study the future’.

In a series of separate meetings here with various groups of countries, the USTR Robert Zoellick and the EC Commissioner Pascal Lamy have been trying to win the support of countries for the launch of a new round with new issues.

On Thursday, Mr. Zoellick met with the GRULAC (Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries) to mobilize their support for a new round, projecting it as the best answer to terrorism. According to some participants, he was in effect canvassing their support for the round to be launched here and the details of what is to be negotiated under the different parts of the work programme to be settled and discussed later!

According to one participant, while several of the Latin Americans, mainly the Cairns group agricultural exporters, seemed receptive or at least did not voice any objections, the Caribbean countries did.

The Caricom countries, which now negotiate through one negotiating authority, did not agree with the attempts to link the war on terrorism with the launch of a new round of negotiations with old and new issues. The Caribbean countries did not see any link between the war on terrorism and new trade negotiations.

They also made clear their opposition to attempts to repeat Seattle - through limited consultations, and the outcomes presented to the entire membership for acceptance. The entire process must be fully transparent and participatory.

As for the Zoellick view for the launch of a new round, the Caribbean countries said the conference must first agree on the subjects to be negotiated. Depending on what was agreed to be negotiated, they could then decide whether to have a ‘round’ or not. Negotiations could not be launched in principle and what to negotiate, settled later. If the subjects to be negotiated were agreed and were sufficient, then it could be called a round, not otherwise.

In a separate meeting with the Africans, Mr. Zoellick was effusive about what the US was doing to benefit Africa through the AGOA (which Africans themselves do not seem to find of much benefit) and seemed to imply, according to participants, that the US would be quite ready (for now?) not to include the four Singapore issues into the negotiating basket. Zoellick, however, wanted to ensure that the ‘market access for non-agricultural products’ is included in the new round - though the US could accept first a study (as demanded by the LDC Ministers and African Ministers at Abuja).

Zoellick also attempted to get the Africans to agree to the second option in the declaration on TRIPS and Public Health (which in fact gives nothing) and attempted to present the first option, for a declaration to declare that nothing in the TRIPS shall be interpreted to prevent a country from taking measures to protect public health, as basically an attempt by Brazil and India to advance the interests of their generic pharmaceuticals industry.

The Zoellick presentation was more a lecturing down rather than an attempt at dialogue, one participant said.

Meanwhile, Zoellick’s efforts to mobilize the developing world received another blow as news came here of the resolution adopted by the US Congress that: (a) the US shall not agree to negotiate anti-dumping rules in the new round (an important element or carrot being held out for launch of the new round), (b) no to more textile and clothing quotas or lowering tariffs on textiles imports or liberalizing the quotas, and on agricultural subsidies.

This would mean that the US cannot agree here to the implementation decisions containing some minor lollipops that are being held out to the developing world for their agreement to launch the new round.

Mr. Zoellick was asked about this at a press conference here, and he could not give a clear answer or commit himself to the adoption of the implementation decisions and the work programme (a misleading description of the subjects for a new round).

Mr. Lamy for his part has also been pushing the EC positions.

What will happen ultimately, and whether and how a new manipulative process would emerge and with what result is unclear.

However, the conference corridors are awash with rumours, none of which are verifiable:

        President Chirac has made clear that he does not want any agricultural mandate out of Doha, lest Jose Bove and others exploit it against Chirac in next year’s French Presidential elections, and that therefore every time some one agrees with the Lamy view, he is upping his demands, so that ultimately no round is launched and the developing world could be blamed.

        The US and EC have ‘done a deal’ on agriculture and anti-dumping, the last an issue on which Japan is said to be insisting.

On the eve of the formal inauguration and opening of the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO here Friday evening, there was still considerable uncertainty and confusion on whether the US and EU and the WTO head will somehow manage to get a new round of negotiations launched here, or their year-long adventurist course will result in a repeat of Seattle - this time without being able to blame street protestors and others.

At 1600 GMT, the Emir of Qatar is due to formally inaugurate the meeting, followed by speeches from the WTO head Mike Moore, UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero, on behalf of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the General Council Chair Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong-China.

The inaugural public session is to be followed by the private, but formal meeting of the Ministerial Conference for adoption of the agenda and the organization of the conference. Perhaps by then some things will be clear. – SUNS5007

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

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