by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 5 Nov 99 -- The WTO Director-General, Mr.Mike Moore in a letter to the Chairman of the General Council on the state of play in his 'green room' consultations said no balanced package for Seattle was possible without solutions to the set of issues under "implementation" and on agriculture.

Moore's letter dated 4 November to the Chairman, released to the media by the press office on Friday, has come after the criticism at the General Council on Thursday about these consultations and lack of transparency and information. These complaints had been voiced by Bolivia, Panama, Mauritius, Uganda and Cuba at the formal meeting of the General Council, without any response either from Moore or Mchumo.

The letter clearly seems to be a response, and suggests that the 'green room' consultations are in response to a request from Mchumo.

However, it was puzzling why, if Mchumo had done so, he did not disclose it at the General Council when the issue was raised. Perhaps even more puzzling was how, in a rules-based organization, such a request from the Chairman to the DG could be made without its having been placed before the Council or the informal HOD even initially.

There had been quite a rumpus in the runup to the 1996 Singapore Ministerial, before the DG, Mr. Renato Ruggiero, could get the nod to help the process of drafting some parts of the Singapore package. This, and the consultations he held there with the Singapore Chair of the meeting, however raised an uproar among a large section of the membership, leading Ruggiero to announce he would hold only 'open-ended consultations'.

In the letter to Mchumo, the WTO head said that, as requested by Mchumo, he had been consulting intensively with delegations on the basis of the Chairman's draft text of 19 October to facilitate movement towards convergence. As he had told the informal HOD meeting on 30 October, the situation was "serious, but not desperate." Since then there have been some positive signs, but they were far from sufficient to ensure that they can present a clear set of recommendations to Ministers.

However, said Moore, the time was very short before Seattle and the magnitude of the continuing divergences in positions meant that the preparatory process was at a critical point.

Unless governments give their delegations in General 'additional flexibility' to reach acceptable and balanced compromise, they would be unable to report progress "significantly beyond" the existing text, Moore said and identified two specific areas of priority:

On Implementation: "We have still to find ways to resolve the set of issues covered by the heading of 'implementation'. We cannot hope to have a balanced package for Seattle without an adequate response to these questions which are so important to so many of our Members, especially developing countries. I urge all governments to review with urgency their approach to these issues and work towards a solution as a top priority."

On Agriculture: "Another key area is mandated negotiations on agriculture. Here the outstanding issues have been more clearly defined in our recent conclusions but there has still been insufficient movement on the substantive issues which divide delegations. We cannot allow this issue to become, as it has in the past, a roadblock to other work. There is an urgent need for governments to give their Geneva representatives the necessary instructions to reach a broadly acceptable compromise."

Beyond these two specific priorities, Moore said urgent attention at the political level was also needed for the overall scope of the negotiations. The consultations had gone as far as possible in defining the options on future treatment of the Singapore agenda issues - investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. What was needed was convergence on one or the other of the options, presumably referring to the EC-Japan views for negotiations, and the developing countries views for continuing the study, without any commitment on negotiations.

Moore reported progress on actions in favour of LDCs and technical cooperation, but said further progress depended on progress on implementation and agriculture.

"My duty", the WTO head said, "is to ensure Ministers having a text with as few brackets as possible. The present text is not good, clear and clean enough for Ministers. However, without your assistance now, progress will be difficult." (SUNS4546)

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

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