Attempts to repeat Seattle ‘decision-making process’ at Doha?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 4 Nov 2001 - - “The Geneva process, just about to come to an end, has been a ‘good one’ and has produced a packet that will provide a basis for ministers to work on and make difficult decisions and trade offs at Doha, run by Ministers for Ministers and not a secretariat conference,” the WTO Director-General Mike Moore, claimed Friday at a press conference.

The press conference came after the General Council Chair, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China had ended the formal General Council session on Thursday afternoon where he again claimed his right to forward and present any document or report on his own authority.

And Thursday night, the Special Council session (the mechanism created by the General Council to handle implementation issues) was ended, without adopting as intended the Harbinson-Moore texts, on the ground that one or two delegations had problems. Though no one in fact had formally objected, Harbinson did not declare a consensus, and apparently would not identify which delegation or delegations had problems with which part.

Both Harbinson and Moore have also in effect refused to incorporate in their texts, or as part of the text in a separate official document, the views officially put forward by the individual delegations with a request that it be forwarded along with, and as an integral of his documents, the positions of countries so that Ministers could be aware of their interests.

Almost reluctantly, Harbinson has said he would provide Ministers with information on the various positions though, as of Sunday morning, most of the delegations concerned did not even seem to know how this was going to be done, with some having the impression that this will be something (as unsatisfactory as now in his written drafts) Mr. Harbinson will do in making an oral presentation at Doha.

If over and above the fact that they will gather at Doha and (for no fault of their hosts) function under not only the normal or abnormal security precautions of the hosts for any conference of ministers, but the US and NATO allies naval armada off the coast, and anti-aircraft guns to defend the Sheraton hotel, the Ministers find themselves in a situation of total procedural confusion and impossible conditions for taking decisions, they have to blame themselves, and will be held accountable in their countries (to the extent they have some parliamentary forum or authority), for their failures to give directions to their officials.

They may have decided that as political heads they must personally take the responsibility and will act at Doha. But if they are wise, they will begin at the outset itself in demanding from Moore and Harbinson the authority claimed by them and keep by their side their officials well-versed in the rules (never mind civil service hierarchies), rather than get bogged down in four days of ‘negotiations’ into individual issues and sub-issues.

In the old GATT, Mr. Arthur Dunkel was prevented from presenting a ‘GATT view’ when he could not cite when, where and how, the Contracting Parties gave him such an authority. But that was because a member-country asserted its rights merely to have its views recorded as one of ‘dissent’, in a forum (the IMF/World Bank annual meetings where the secretariat comes with a draft communique, reflecting the G-7 voting majority, to be issued without further change whatever the speeches and views).

The forthcoming Doha conference would be a vital confidence-booster for a gloomy world economy, asserted Mr. Mike Moore at his press conference Friday morning, conceding that success at Doha was not assured.

The Doha conference may end in another deadlock (but that would be a success for the developing world, including the hosts), but neither the course of the world economy and its synchronised recession nor any thing else can be overcome by anything that the WTO does or does not, nor by any round that is launched.

Every serious market economist, with some credentials for intellectual integrity, as different from the economic politician-academics promoting particular views, has acknowledged that ‘trade’ whatever its role has no contribution to make for a recovery or even for reduction of poverty and inequality, but global expansionary macro-economic policies through public spending (and not tax cuts for the rich), can contribute to recovery.

On Saturday, buried in the back page of the second section of the Financial Times, Mr. Michael Prowse has said that the proponents of laissez faire are hand-waving propagandists and should be treated as such. He has written about the market economists (what every one who knows some economics knows) and has said that “one of the best kept secrets of economics is that one can prove that unfettered markets produce ‘optimal’ outcomes only by making “grotesquely improbable assumptions.” He then outlines them as: “a market that is so perfectly competitive that nobody - not even Bill Gates of Microsoft - can exert even the tiniest power over prices. There must be no ‘externalities’: everything that we desire must be strictly ‘private’ good in the sense that our consumption of it must have no impact - negative or positive - on others. We must in short live in enclosed bubbles and interact with others only by means of price signals. And perhaps the most fanciful of all, since we do live in a world characterized by time and uncertainty, there must be markets in every possible contingent claim. This means somebody should be willing to quote a price for delivery of mushroom pizza in three years on condition that it rains on August 10 next year. It is no wonder that economists bury these daft assumptions in mathematical fine print and use slogans such as ‘invisible hand’ when engaging in public debate.”

Our own ‘contribution’ to this debate would be if the old GATT and the WTO (and their free trade advisors) have really worked for, and brought about even half of ‘free trade’, there should be no secretariat - for the ‘invisible hand’ requires governments should not act at all, even for disputes on these matters.  Perhaps in their own self-interest, they work for neo-mercantalist interests of the major trading powers.

It is of course possible that in the ‘rules-based’ WTO, the stalemate caused by the right of denial of a consensus (defined according to footnote 1 to the first sentence of Article IX of the Marrakesh Treaty, as ‘if no Member, present at the meeting when the decision is taken, formally objects to the proposed decision’) could be resolved by a vote. This ‘consensus’ rule and practice has been repeatedly proclaimed (including by Mr. Mike Moore at the UN LDC meet and the July ECOSOC in Geneva, and the ACC) as the best safeguard for any member, big or small, and that they could always block an agreement by denying consensus.

As WTO members learnt last week, the WTO is George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (all are equal but some are more equal” and his ‘1984’ which was not only a commentary of the Soviet State, but of the west too, about doublespeaks.

Mr. Harbinson to whom every delegate in the beginning of his speech addressed words of the usual diplomatese (which in the current sum total amounts to empty courtesies), of thanks for his efforts, never placed the proposition of being able to send documents on his own before the General Council for decision. All his statements hitherto, including the cover note for the September draft, clearly said these were documents for the General Council to agree.

Those objecting to the high-handed, rule-less procedures of Harbinson and Moore were in numbers less than the majority that the majors drummed up.

Those objecting to and/or not prepared to take the Harbinson texts as a basis for work at Doha, and objecting to his forwarding the texts were: Tanzania speaking for the LDC group, Pakistan, Egypt, Cuba, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, India, Nigeria, Zambia, Gabon, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, St.Lucia, Brunei Darussalam, Haiti, Barbados, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Uganda - some of them clearly and specifically challenging and objecting to the Harbinson course of action.

Many of the others, who are for the launch of a new round at Doha, and willing to take the document as a basis for work, still made clear their differences with particular parts.

Only Uruguay, by opposing Harbinson in any manner explaining some of the objections but not all, in effect really took a position that implied that it did not want Harbinson to make any further clarifications, beyond that the text did not represent a consensus.

While the WTO articles would have enabled by voting to settle the issue of lack of consensus, if the minority had made clear that if a vote were to be taken to decide this very important matter, everything in the organization in future (including whether a decision should be put off, for further consultations) would be decided only by a recorded roll-call vote, there would have been no vote. For, the US and the Quad, and their corporations, have more to lose.

The UN system organizations, supposedly providing developing countries with technical support and engaging staff (and getting extra-budgetary funds) to do that, do not appear to have provided any guidance to the developing world on this legal situation.

However, the SUNS and the Third World Network, which were approached by several developing countries, having consulted trade experts, did provide advise to developing country delegations on their procedural rights, while making clear that it was a political decision to be taken by each government. And the South Centre technical team (some of whom consulted us too), often slow to give advice when needed, provided and in time a clear note to the developing country delegations about the (lack of) right of the Chair and the DG to forward any documents on their own to the Ministers, and the unfortunate situation being created and one where developing countries have to defend the WTO system.

As of Saturday, member countries who have clearly set out their objections and alternative formulations to the paragraphs of the documents, and officially asked Chairman Harbinson to forward them along with his texts, had no information on what he and Moore would do.

And the WTO’s Chief Spokesman, Keith Rockwell said at a press briefing on 31 October, in response to questions, that the secretariat ‘research’ showed “a degree of inconsistency in procedures, but that flexibility was the watchword.”

At a luncheon briefing the next day (before the General Council session ended resumed and ended in the afternoon), for a select group of WTO-friendly correspondents, none of whom probably had the technical knowledge to challenge him, Harbinson is reported to have justified his course and claimed there were precedents to enable him to do this.

So far while claiming such a right to act without specific authorization from the General Council neither Harbinson nor the secretariat have provided to the media seeking answers to these questions, nor at the General Council, the basis for the ‘authority’ they claim, nor do they appear to have given such information privately to any delegation that is objecting. May be they are holding this back to spring on the Ministers at Doha and ‘ensnaring’ them.

The old GATT, and the new WTO, can very conveniently always produce (behind the backs of parties, before panels) something from internal records and files (not admissible even in any quasi-judicial process) ‘evidence’ or precedent for their view. However, the limited research SUNS was able to do from the public records of the WTO, and the private records that delegations consulted on our behalf and advised us of the contents, there does not appear to be any such precedent after the WTO treaty (the old GATT practices could be relied upon only if the WTO rules are not clear, as they are in this case), the rights and the responsibilities of the Chairman of the General Council and of its subordinate bodies.

Even when the subordinate bodies are deadlocked from deciding on a report, the chair of that body is expressly authorized to make an oral report on his own responsibility.

On Thursday night, at the Special General Council, where the ‘implementation’ decision, with annex I and II merged, for decision, could not take the decision, and though no delegation took the floor apparently to object to any particular part or tirets, the Chair reportedly only said that one or two delegations had problems (but would not identify them when specifically demanded), and the lack of consensus rule prevailed!

On Thursday, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan came to Geneva to call for the new round at Doha and support its launch, but said he himself would not be going to Doha for the opening events, but had asked the UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero to represent him! And UNCTAD officials privately suggested that Mr. Ricupero would be reaching there Thursday night or so, speak at the opening ceremonial function Friday night, and leave (since UNCTAD or UN can only sit in the empty plenary halls to listen to speeches!)

The World Bank has been promoting the new round as the answer to the developing world’s problems and for fighting poverty, in a report that acknowledges the deep deficiencies of such parts of the WTO accord as the TRIPS, but merely suggests more time to implement.

But the head of the World Bank announced Thursday apparently in Washington that he himself would give Doha a miss, and so did apparently the head of the UNDP.

The anxious questions that many WTO staff asked Friday, questions that their families have been asking too, is “do all these people know something we don’t and what could be done.”

After our questions at the Moore press conference, even officials not very friendly to us, came and thanked us!

At the press conference Friday morning, Moore, was asked in three or four separate and pointed questions about the security situation, and reminded too, that his replies did not answer the question. In fact he declined to give clear answers to questions whether the US authorities had in fact briefed him, whether on the basis of that information he could reassure the secretariat staff (and their families at home, whose welfare, as part of the right to run the secretariat, is his only right and obligation under the WTO charter) and the media and others going to Doha about their own safety.

Later, the Associated Press quoted him as confirming that “there were ‘contingency’ plans for the WTO staff in the event of trouble,” but would not disclose details.

Since 11 September, Mr. Moore who has always ambivalent about the Doha venue, has been part of the group (including USTR Robert Zoellick and EC Commissioner Pascal Lamy) that has tried to use the concerns to shift the meeting to Singapore, where the government and minister could be better expected to manipulate an outcome.

But that blew in their face, after the conversations between the Emir of Qatar and the US Vice-President Dick Cheney. Subsequently, the Emir and President Bush appear to have talked on the phone, and then Bush and Zoellick.

Personally, we do not have any apprehensions, and do believe that the Government of Qatar has taken, and is taking every step they could. Many developing country ambassadors, supporters or opponents of a round, also have the same views, with some taking a ‘fatalistic’ view about themselves, but taking with them the least support staff they would need.

But all of them are appalled at the state of affairs, and say in private that the performance of the performance, and of the US and EU, are incomprehensible, and irresponsible.

A western correspondent asked Moore to give specific answers about security and safety, and cited reports out of Washington about gas masks for the US delegations, special medicine kits, anti-aircraft guns and other defences over the Conference site at Doha, and the armada of US naval vessels and what it meant for a trade meeting.

Mr Moore did not give any clear response, merely talking about the Qatar government’s assurances.

Mr. Moore was then asked (by this writer) about the conditions of the conference, under US ‘protective’ guns so to say and reminded that in any national system, whether governed under the Anglo-Saxon Rule of Law or the French Droit Administratif, a contract between two parties in such a situation would be held null and void ab initio. What would be value of an agreement at Doha to launch any negotiations and how would history judge Mr. Moore?

All that the WTO head could say was it all would depend on the outcome of Doha, and the ‘definition of success’, and that history would judge by the success, meaning presumably history would not care about the means in its judgements.

Mr. Moore told the press conference that the experience in the runup to Doha would need to be drawn and institutionalised, and that he himself has some ideas!

Well, one of the points of the work programme is similar to that of the Punta del Este Uruguay Round mandate on the ‘Functioning of the GATT system’, the ubiquitous secretariat agenda, used by the secretariat to expand its own powers, and force down on the developing world in December 1993, not only the Marrakesh Agreement but sign on to it as a single undertaking, to be further expanded by the Appellate Body.

There is already some talk, that Moore and some old GATT staff who have retired but retained as ‘consultants’ and ‘advisors’, have prepared a ‘game plan’ if Doha ends in a stalemate.

Given that Zoellick, Lamy and Moore are now looking to the Punta del Este precedents and practice, the WTO members might be asked to adopt (and may approve) a process for further consultations to promote an agreement - ala the decision taken at the Montreal Mid-Term meeting in December 1988, and the Brussels meeting in 1990.

If the developing country ministers are wise, they would insist on the entire matter being taken back to the General Council - without the revised draft or any other of the Chair, but starting with the documents and proposals on the table.

If they are wiser, whether they succeed or not, they should eliminate the DG and even any Chair who claims inherent rights from the process, and start to hold the Director-General responsible for going beyond his authority over the last two years n not only promoting a new round, but sending his officials to some capitals bypassing the accredited envoys here) asking them to give a different instruction o their envoys. Whether successful or not, even the initiation of such a process would have a salutary governance effect. Late Friday afternoon (after his press conference), at an informal heads of delegations ‘information’ meeting, Moore and the General Council Chair, Mr. Stuart Harbinson, apprised delegations of the manner in which the Doha conference of the rules-based WTO is intended to be organized and run.

The WTO itself did not hold its usual media briefing, and a scheduled briefing was cancelled, to provide even the background information they try to provide; perhaps such ‘simple procedural technicalities’ don’t interest the western media, and so must not be ‘news.’

However, according to information provided by delegates who did attend the HOD meet, they were advised that the Qatari Minister (chairman of the Doha Conference) had said that he wanted to do as much of the business of the conference as he could in the Committee of the Whole (COW), and if any difficulty arose on any particular issue he would give three hours for ‘interested parties’ to meet and come up with solutions.

[In September, at a meeting with some Geneva-based correspondents who had been ‘invited’ to visit Qatar and Doha, as reported by some of them he had said that he did not want any of the secretive green room processes, but a fully transparent and participatory process]

The ideas for the organization and functioning of the 4th Ministerial Conference at Doha, outlined by DG Mike Moore, if agreed to by Ministers, suggest that there would be a repeat of the Seattle process - with groups of ministers named to lead consultations on difficult issues, while a large number of African, Caribbean and other small economies will be milling around not knowing what is happening, and excluded from the real decision-making, several Third World ambassadors said after the briefing.

The envoy of a ‘small economy,’ well-versed and experienced in the WTO and old GATT ways and spending the last month or so trying to be in three places at the same time to safeguard his country interests, had this to say:

“We are going to be facing at Doha the same situation as at Seattle, without street demonstrations. There will be a Committee of the Whole, and groups of ministerial meetings to tackle different subjects and bring up their compromises to be adopted by the COW. And as at Seattle, Ministers from Africa, the Caribbean and other small economies will be milling around, twiddling their thumbs, not knowing what to do or what is happening where.”

Perhaps a question they face now is: “Having not raised our hands and said ‘No’ at the meeting here (for lack of clear instructions from governments? pressures from the majors and the WTO or some thing else) would our ministers be able to say NO at Doha, as they did at Seattle? To the extent they are unable to answer now, or their ministers at Doha, they would be forced to answer them on the streets in their own countries many of which are facing serious social and economic crises, yes and even law and order problems.

Both developing countries, and the host country, the Emir of Qatar who in all good faith and a sense of hospitality came up with the invitation to the WTO after Seattle, look as if they are being set up by the WTO and the majors to either yield to the US-EU demands and launch a new round on their terms (but a round which in fact some of them, like the French, don’t even really want now), or take the blame.

With the Americans continuing to talk of “new, ‘credible’ threats of new terror attacks,” received by the FBI and US intelligence by monitored or intercepted messages, and the scares being created over ‘anthrax’, and reports that the American delegation will come equipped with gas masks and medicines, and US naval ships in the Gulf off Qatar coast,

“It is the cleanest and best product that our process allows,” claimed Mr.  Moore, who later in the day, at an information meeting with heads of delegations, set out plans for the organization and running of the Conference that ‘internally’ seems likely to be even more opaque and non-transparent than the Seattle Conference in Nov 1999, which collapsed when the African, Caribbean and other small economies that had been excluded from decisions, by a ‘green room process’, said no and brought the conference to an end.

With the documents for the Ministerial Conference being drawn up and presented without any authorization from the General Council, the plans for the conference itself seems likely to make things worse for the World Trade Organization and the system - in terms of credibility among the public, and the ability of member governments to be able to carry their parliaments over the new round and any new obligations arising from them.

At the General Council on Thursday, the Chairman of the General Council, Mr.  Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China ignored objections from several delegations, and without actually citing any precedent, insisted that he had the right to present on his authority draft texts for a ministerial declaration.

In the debate twentytwo delegations had taken the floor, spoke against his intention that he would not revise his text and present the alternative formulations, but that he would have a covering note indicating key differences.

In what amounted to a Harbinson-Moore coup (against the members and the rules-based consensus decision-making), the General Council chair did not also agree to forward, as specifically requested, alternative formulations put forward by delegations, to enable the Ministers to know the positions. As of Friday evening, the delegations could not even get information as to whether and when they would get the copy of the ‘covering letter’ of the chairman (where delegations had insisted he should outline the positions of countries.)

Though several key delegations, big and small, had expressly questioned in the Council the Chairman’s authority to forward a document on his own, Harbinson did not give way.

If the WTO Director-General Mike Moore has his way, the Geneva process (of  consultations and the Chair producing a text) would be institutionalised in the WTO.

There will be all kinds of ‘green rooms’ all around, some flying around the world, with one or two opposed brought in and repeatedly sought to be cowed down and without anyone not in the groups, knowing what was happening, another diplomat remarked. – SUNS5002

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

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