WTO-GC to formally designate Qatar as venue for next ministerial

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 23 Jan 2001 -- The General Council of the World Trade Organization will reconvene on 29 January and is then expected to accept the invitation of Qatar to hold the next Ministerial Conference and decide on the convening of the conference in Qatar from 5-9 November.

At an informal General Council meeting Tuesday, the members were advised that Chile, which had said in December that it was still considering the idea of offering Santiago as the site for the next Conference, is no longer considering it, and that the only offer on the table was from Qatar.

Qatar has said that the meeting should be set well before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year is expected to begin around 16 November.

The informal General Council meeting agreed on Qatar as the host country for the 4th Ministerial and to hold the Conference there from 5-9 November.  The General Council which was recessed in December to be able to be reconvened without the customary 10-days notice, is now set to meet on 29 January to formally approve and set the dates and venue of the Conference.

Some non-governmental groups, like the New York-based Human Rights Watch, have objected to Qatar as being an unsuitable venue for the WTO meet, but this did not seem to have figured in the informal consultations.

Though WTO Director-General, Mr. Mike Moore has assured that all non-governmental organizations that were accredited to the Seattle meeting would be able to attend the Qatar meeting, this will not enable those not accredited to go to Qatar and protest, Human Rights Watch said from New York.

Since the last ministerial conference, at Seattle in December 1999, did not formally name the chair and vice-chairs of the next conference, the General Council will now have to do this also. Decisions on the agenda and preparatory work for the conference is expected to be taken up later.

Questions raised by developing countries for remedial actions under the rubric of ‘implementation’, the on-going negotiations on agriculture, services and other mandated negotiations and reviews (such as in the TRIPS), as well as the efforts and attempts of the EU and Japan to launch a new round with new issues, are prominent among the issues that would need to be resolved beforehand.

Much would also depend on what the new Bush administration in the United States wants to do. Any prior accord between the US and EU would undoubtedly have a great bearing on the preparations. However, it is no longer a given that whatever is agreed between the US and EU, or whatever is seen by them as good for themselves and their corporations would sail through the WTO process.

Learning from the experience of Seattle, a number of key developing countries have made it clear that they do not want a situation to develop under which ministers assembling for the Qatar meeting may be asked to negotiate on a range of issues; they insist on the declaration and conclusions being settled beforehand in the preparatory process in Geneva at the General Council.

And a sizeable section of the developing world is also insisting on ‘implementation issues’ being up front. According to present indications, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China is the leading candidate to succeed Norway as chair of the General Council. –SUNS4821

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

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