Mexico to host next WTO ministerial

Geneva, 21 Dec (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - - The General Council of the World Trade Organization on Thursday accepted an invitation from Mexico to host the 5th Ministerial Conference, with the dates and venue to be set after consultations.

The General Council also set 28 January 2002, as the date for the first meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC). The 4th Ministerial meeting in adopting the Doha work programme, mandated a TNC to be set up to supervise the overall conduct of the negotiations under the work programme.

Earlier, Pakistan on behalf of a group of developing countries presented a paper on various elements of the functioning of the TNC and the various negotiating bodies in terms of the work programme.

Chairman Harbinson announced that he will begin consultations on the TNC and other matters (including the proposals in the paper presented by Pakistan) in mid-January when he will come back from end of the year holidays.

The paper - presented on behalf of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Kenya, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe - outlined various elements that should be taken into consideration in the setting up and operation of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and related bodies.

Among other things, the paper called for Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the TNC and bodies to be selected by explicit consensus and from the membership within the General Council, and for the chairs to hold office for no more than one year, with the vice-chairs taking over the next year to provide continuity.

Australia and Canada who often speak in these matters reflecting the views of the United States spoke critically of the paper, particularly the proposal that the chairmanship should come from the Geneva-based ambassadors, and that no more than one negotiating body should meet at one time, even in an informal mode.

Canada’s Amb. Sergio Marchi, who reportedly is a candidate for the Chairmanship of the General Council next year was particularly acerbic in his comments and criticism, trade diplomats said.

Mr. Marchi, a former minister who came to this job with parliamentary background and the experience of the cut-and-thrust of Anglo-Saxon parliamentary life and debates, has used the same tactics and language in the diplomatic forum in criticising opposition, and in the past too has drawn criticism from other diplomats, including when he crossed swords with Brazil’s Ambassador Celso Amorim over the Canadian-Brazilian aircraft subsidy disputes.

The communication from nine developing countries, who are members of the like-minded group, was introduced by Pakistan in a speech at the General Council, with Amb. Munir Akram of Pakistan making oblique references to the procedures and processes in the runup to Doha and at Doha itself.

Developing country diplomats in their post-Doha assessments have been of the view that part of the problems they faced in the runup to and at Doha itself was due to the lack of specific rules governing various situations (that are found in other international organizations) and the leeway it provided to the secretariat and the majors to adopt and push through any procedures.

While this has always been a problem of ‘power’ and manipulation on behalf of the power structures, they said at Doha this was taken to the extremes - in the way both the Director-General Mike Moore and the chair of the General Council claimed authority, without being able to cite any rules, to send documents directly to the ministerial conference.

This rule-lessness was compounded when there was an abuse of the normal protocol and privileges accorded to the head of state of the host in ceremonial meetings to open the conference, when the Qatari minister chairing the conference, at the end of the ceremonial session, when the Emir of Qatar was still in the hall and taking leave of his guests, placed the agenda before the conference and declared it carried and allowed Harbinson and Moore to table their drafts of the ministerial declaration and the implementation decision.

Also, developing countries said, the ‘facilitators’ named and announced had all been suggested and agreed upon among the Quad members, and in particular the US and the EC, without any consultations with the membership.

All the nine signatories to the communication introduced on their behalf of Pakistan are members of the ‘like minded group’ at the WTO. Other members of the group said that the paper has been discussed and evolved within the group, but that there had not been enough time for all of them to get instructions from their capitals, and the paper on behalf of the nine had been introduced to put it on the table.

The communication sets out the considerations that the nine wanted to be borne in mind in the setting up and operation of the TNC and its related bodies - in regard to the role of the General Council visavis the TNC, the number of negotiating bodies, the selection of chairs and their role and other issues.  They hoped the communication and the considerations put forward would be seen “as a constructive contribution” by the delegations to realize calls for increased participation of developing countries (in the WTO and the trading system).

“In this fashion, we expect that all elements of the follow-up of the 4th Ministerial Conference will receive the same transparent, inclusive and member-driven treatment that is called for in the Doha Ministerial Declaration.  In particular, this should ensure that small missions are able to participate effectively in all elements of the WTO work program, including the new negotiations.”

The most important of these, they added, related to the definition and establishment of the TNC In this regard, the General Council shall guide the work of the TNC in order to keep the negotiating process under the supervision of the membership and proposed:

·        The TNC shall work in accordance with the direct instructions from the General Council.

·        The TNC shall report to the General Council, at least once every 3 months. The General Council shall take stock of progress of the meetings and make an assessment before agreeing to the next programme of negotiating meetings.

·        All aspects of the negotiating procedures and structures of the TNC shall be adopted by the General Council.

In regard to the negotiating bodies, the paper called for specific negotiating

groups to be kept to a minimum wherever possible, since “the proliferation of

negotiating bodies is a major concern to developing countries, especially

smaller missions.” Therefore,

·        all negotiations should take place in special sessions of existing bodies.

·        in the event new bodies are to be set up, the number should be kept to the minimum.

·        the constraints of smaller missions shall be taken into account in developing a programme of work and calendar of meetings.

·        no more than one negotiating body shall meet at one time, even in informal mode. A reasonable time gap shall be allowed between meetings of the different bodies.

On the issue of selection of chairs of the TNC and negotiating bodies, the communication said that the General Council shall ensure that Chairs of the TNC and other relevant negotiating bodies are selected “in a fully transparent and inclusive manner”, reflecting a “balanced and proportional representation” of the membership and ensuring their active participation throughout the process.

On this selection issue, the paper said:

·        Chairs and vice-Chairs shall be selected as a result of an explicit consensus in formal meetings.

·        distribution of Chairs and vice-Chairs between developed and developing countries shall proportionately reflect the present composition of the WTO membership.

·        Chairs will be selected from the membership within the General Council.

·        Chairs will be appointed for no longer than one year, with the possibility of

re-election if so decided by consensus.

·        whenever a Chair is appointed from a developed country, the vice-Chair will be from a developing country and will take over the chairmanship after the completion of the period of the chair.

·        the Chair shall coordinate negotiations in a neutral manner, and shall ensure that all views are represented accurately.

Under other issues, the paper called for:

·        minutes of all meetings shall be an accurate and objective account of what was actually said, and all opinions shall be recorded verbatim. The minutes of each meeting shall be made available to Members within ten days of the conclusion of each meeting.

Developing country diplomats said that even, the summary record of the final session of the Doha meeting (that was summoned to meet on 14 November evening, when many ministers had already left) was not available until the General Council meeting, with various excuses given to delegations who asked for the minutes or report on return to Geneva from Doha. After repeated prodding, including in the post-Doha consultations about ‘de-restriction’ of documents, the secretariat issued with an 18 December dateline and made available to delegations on 19 December, the summary record of the last session of the conference.

·        all informal and other consultations on draft decisions and/or negotiating texts shall be undertaken only in open-ended meetings.

·        any negotiating text shall be made available to all participants at least two weeks in advance, in all three of the official languages of the WTO, in order to allow for reasonable consideration in Geneva and by authorities of member-countries in the capitals.

·        all disagreements shall be reflected in bracketed texts and/or alternative language formulations,

·        before the end of the negotiations, an evaluation shall be undertaken, under the supervision of the General Council, on the extent to which S&D treatment objectives have been attained and the balance in the outcomes of negotiations have been taken into account, as set out in the Doha declaration.

·        any mid-term review shall also consider these points.

·        If at any stage any text in any negotiating group is ‘opened, then all areas shall be subject to modifications if required.

Trade diplomats of developing countries and observers said that several of the points in the communication are matters that would be taken for granted and/or provided for in any well-run organization. That six years after the functioning of the WTO, these have to be set down on paper and presented as “elements to be taken into consideration” itself spoke volumes about the system. –SUNS5036

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

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