by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Seattle, 3 Dec 99 -- WTO members from the Latin American and Caribbean region, and African members, in separate statements Thursday night protested the host country tactics and utter lack of transparency in the processes at the Ministerial meeting here and threatened to withhold consensus from any final outcome here.

The protests came on a day of increasing power play and secret manoeuvres by USTR and Chair of the Ministerial Mrs. Charlene Barshefsky and WTO DG, Mike Moore (who owes his job to the US), reminiscent of the worst days of the old GATT.

At the conference site itself, inadequate arrangements - even of availability of water and coffee or tea during long night meetings -demonstrated incompetence in organization or deliberate effort to wear out delegates physically, have been an irritant.

Added to that have been small and private consultations held all over the place, with key nations having a stake in the issue not being aware of when, where and how these were being held and who was doing it.

After a charade of such consultations, the chairs of the working groups attempted to present their own version of the discussions at the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, and this led to outcries, protests and complaints of non-transparency.

Barshefsky's display of over-bearing imperial manners and repetition of old jokes about trade lawyers and their adaption to ridicule trade ministers (as being paid by the number of square brackets they put into texts) and Moore's attempts to defend her, resulted in the participants exploding into anger outside, and boos inside at Moore (as if the street protests in Seattle had come into the meeting), one participant in the COW said later.

Undaunted, Moore and his secretariat were proceeding according to script in organizing more consultations, including on issues not accepted at the COW (such as an informal working group on labour standards), while Barshefsky at a press conference asserted her right and intention with Moore to organizing more 'green rooms' to conclude a text for a ministerial declaration.

The GRULAC (Spanish acronym for Latin American and Caribbean group of countries) in a statement by their Ministers in a declaration (expressed):

1. "to the host country, their profound surprise and resulting anger at the organization and lack of concern for providing the high dignitaries and delegates attending this Ministerial Conference with minimum conditions of security, and for allowing in some cases, physical and verbal aggressions against its distinguished guests."

2. "To the authorities of the Conference and the WTO Director-General's office, their express disagreement with the way in which the negotiations are being conducted at the Ministerial Conference, a way that shows a parallel course of action between a discourse oriented to transparency and the participation by the delegations, and a process of limited and reserved participation by some members which intends to define the scope and extent of the future negotiating round that all member-countries are to adopt. We are particularly concerned over the stated intentions to produce a ministerial text at any cost, including the modification of procedures designed to secure participation and consensus.

3. "To all WTO members, their strong conviction that, as long as conditions of transparency, openness and participation that allow for adequately balanced results in respect of the interests of all members do not exist, we will not join the consensus required to meet the objectives of this Ministerial Conference."

In a separate statement, the Trade Ministers of the Member-states of the Organization of African Unity/African Economic Community (OAU/AEC) said:

"We wish to express our disappointment and disagreement with the way in which negotiations are being conducted at this Third WTO Ministerial Conference."

"There is no transparency in the proceedings and African countries are being marginalised and generally excluded on issues of vital importance for our peoples and their future. We are particularly concerned over the stated intentions to produce a ministerial text at any cost including at the cost of procedures designed to secure participation and consensus.

"We reject the approach that is being employed and we must point out that under the present circumstances, we will not be able to join the consensus required to meet the objectives of the Ministerial Conference. We therefore expect that our concerns as consistently articulated by African countries in separate statements to be adequately addressed.

"We therefore urge the chairperson of the conference to address the concerns expressed by many members to ensure that we reach consensus required to meet the objectives of the Ministerial Conference." (SUNS4566)

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

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