Earth Trends - 12 November 2001


By Martin Khor

Citizen groups have called on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial conference in Doha to reject a draft of the meeting's Declaration because of the non-transparent and discriminatory process in its formulation and the grave threat of its content for the future of developing countries.

They urged Ministers from developing countries to "boldly table their own alternative texts reflecting the interests of their people and their countries in the various key paragraphs and sections."

More than 40 NGOs have signed a joint statement on the eve of the Doha conference calling on developed countries and the WTO Secretariat not to use manipulative methods (such as the Green Room process) at Doha to ram through an unpopular and dangerous Declaration.  They urged  Ministers of developing countries to resist intimidation by developed countries and take a firm stand to defend the public and national interests of their countries.

The NGOs condemned the recent WTO process in Geneva by which the draft Ministerial Declaration has been transmitted to the Doha Conference.

The draft, dated 27 October,  has not obtained the agreement of WTO Members, and there are serious differences between countries in many of its sections and paragraphs, said the NGOs.  Yet the text is being sent to Doha, without following the normal practice of showing different views and different options on each topic.

The "clean draft" gives a very deceptive impression that there is already agreement, when in fact it ignores the views of the majority of developing countries, thus placing them at a great disadvantage during the Doha negotiations, the NGOs charge.

According to their statement: "Although many countries expressed their grave dissatisfaction with the content and process of coming out with the text, the Chairman has decided to send his draft unchanged to the Ministerial.   Moreover, the cover letter he is attaching with the texts, sent to the Qatar Minister of Trade, does not explain the differences in the various issues-thus giving another grossly unfair advantage to the developed countries that are pushing for launching negotiations in new areas.

"This incident is another outstanding example of the untransparent, discriminatory, biased and manipulative process of decision-making at the WTO, that favours a few major developed countries at the expense of the many developing countries.  Indeed, compared with previous Ministerial Conferences (for example, Singapore in 1996 and Seattle in 1999), the level of manipulation and deceit in the drafting and transmission of this text is even more blatant and it has brought the WTO down to a record low level in public credibility.

"It is ironic and hypocritical that such untransparent and discriminatory practices are so prevalent in an organization that claims transparency and non-discrimination as its core principles. We consider the draft Declaration as illegitimate and a threat to the development and economic and social viability of developing countries.  It has also failed to address the grave concerns of civil society on the effects of the WTO agreements (and future proposed rules) on food security, human rights, access of consumers to essential goods and services, and the right of local communities and workers to secure livelihoods."

The NGOs state that in particular, many developing countries have repeatedly disagreed that negotiations should be launched on "new issues" (investment, competition, government procurement, transparency and trade facilitation).  At the most recent WTO General Council meetings on 3rd and 31st October, a large number of developing countries (including the least developed countries, the Africa Group and several Asian countries) spoke up against negotiations on these new issues.

"Yet the draft specifically commits Ministers to agree to such negotiations, and does not provide for options.  This totally ignores the views of the people and governments of a majority of developing countries.

"Many developing countries also proposed to have a study process on the effects of past industrial tariff reductions on closure of local industries and job losses instead of negotiations.  Yet paragraph 16 commits the Ministers to launch negotiations, which can damage developing countries' local industries and cause serious job losses.

"By not reflecting the differences in view (either through square brackets or showing the various options), the draft gives a very deceptive impression that there is already agreement, or that the views given command unanimous or overwhelming support.

"The deception in such a 'clean text' has the serious effect of favouring the developed countries that have campaigned for the new issues, whilst placing the developing countries opposing these issues at a great disadvantage."

On the issue of TRIPS, their statement said:  "In particular, the TRIPS agreement has been debated and condemned by the public worldwide for its role in depriving consumers of access to essentials.  An organ of the UN Human Rights Commission has noted that implementation of TRIPS conflicts with the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.  Yet the draft Ministerial Declaration does not deal with the wide range of issues brought up by citizen groups (including biopiracy) whilst the attempts by developing countries to clarify that nothing in TRIPS should prevent public health measures is being undermined by a few developed countries."

On their demands for the Doha conference, the NGOs:

* Condemned the continuation and in fact worsening of the non-participatory and biased process of preparations for the Doha Ministerial Conference.

* Called on the WTO Members and the Secretariat to stop from using untransparent and manipulative techniques, at Doha and after.

* Called on the Ministers, delegations and governments to reject the draft Ministerial Declaration of 27 October  as the basis of a Declaration.   Instead, Ministers should boldly table their own alternative texts reflecting the interests of their people and their countries in the various key paragraphs and sections.

* Called in particular on the Ministers to reject paragraphs 20-23 on launching negotiations on the new issues and instead replace them with the decision either to continue the study in the working groups on these issues, or to close down these working groups as these issues do not belong at the WTO and negotiations would threaten the future of developing countries.

* Supported the proposal by many developing countries to change paragraph 16: instead of negotiations on industrial tariffs, a study process should be initiated.

* Called on the Ministers to instruct that the TRIPS agreement be drastically revised to meet the public's concerns;  including that countries can exempt food, medicines and the agriculture and pharmaceutical sectors from patentability.  Other problems arising from imbalances in existing WTO rules and their implementation must also be addressed effectively as a priority.

* Called on Ministers to oppose the section on organisation and management  of the work programme (paras 38-45 of the draft Declaration) as it contains many elements of a New Round (such as a single undertaking and a Trade Negotiating Committee) with a big agenda of negotiations on many new issues.  Instead, the Ministers at Doha should adopt a simple text stating that the future work programme will be conducted under the General Council's supervision and a progress report will be submitted to the 5th Ministerial Conference.

* Demanded that the Doha Ministerial Conference be conducted in a fair, transparent and inclusive manner.

* Demanded that the developed countries and the Secretariat should not persist with the old and discredited methods of manipulation, including the "Green Room" process of small group meetings.

* Urged the Ministers of developing countries to refuse to be intimidated by any manipulative tactics and attempts by developed countries aided by the Secretariat to bulldoze through proposals that are a threat to development and people's interests.  The decisions taken will determine the future of our countries. Therefore we urge that the Ministers and officials take a firm stand to defend the public and national interests of their countries.

The "Joint NGO Statement on the Untransparent and Manipulative Process Leading to the Draft WTO Doha Ministerial Declaration" was initially drafted by some participants during an Asian regional workshop on trade, the WTO and human development held in Penang, Malaysia on 2-3 November.

Among the signatories are some leading Asian-based NGOs, including Third World Network, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, National Working Group on Patent Laws (India), Gonoshasthaya Kendra (Bangladesh), Actionaid (Pakistan), Assembly of the Poor (Thailand), Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development,  Project for Ecological Recovery (Thailand), the Consumers Association of Penang, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, Indonesian Consumer Council, Tebtebba Foundation (International Centre for Indigenous People) (Philippines), IBON (Philippines), Focus on the Global South and Korean House for International Solidarity.

Groups outside the Asian region have also signed on, including SEATINI (Zimbabwe), ISODEC (Ghana), Instituto Tercer Mundo (Uruguay), Food First (USA), Norwegian GATT/WTO Campaign, and URFIG (Belgium).