Invasion of WTO by “green men”

by Tetteh Hormeku

Doha, 10 Nov 2001 - The undemocratic and manipulative methods which have characterised the operations of the WTO, have moved into higher gear, barely six hours after the official opening of the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Doha, Qatar.

Six individuals (ministers) with open-ended powers have been appointed in a non-transparent manner to work out the elements of a consensus document to be adopted as the Ministerial Declaration.

Operating without reference to any established and commonly agreed procedures, these six individuals, named as ‘facilitators’ and friends of the Chair (of the Conference), are expected to hold consultations with delegations, each free to decide their own procedures - some opted for consultations open to all, and then bilaterals, and others only bilaterals, with delegates - and out of these consultations produce what they judge to be the points of consensus for adoption in the Ministerial Declaration.

Many delegations and observers in Doha see this development as a worsening of the undemocratic, secretive and manipulative “green room” methods which excluded many African and other developing countries and led to the collapse of the third Ministerial Conference in Seattle two years ago. This time, the undemocratic methods and powers of the “green room” have been concentrated in the hands of six individual men; and, as Mr. Martin Khor of the Third World Network put it at a briefing, the “green room” has now become “green men”.

The six “Friends of the Chair”, who are supposed to deal with six subject matters on which there are to be consultations - Ministers of Canada (Singapore issues); Mexico (TRIPS); Chile (Environment); Singapore (Agriculture);

Switzerland (Implementation issues); and South Africa (WTO rules), are all countries supporting the launch of negotiations on all or some of the controversial new issues.

The criteria for selection of the ‘friends’ remain a secret to most delegates; so too the identification of the subject matters for consultation. They were announced in a way which left delegates no room for objection.

Indeed, the entire process surrounding the six “ green men” has been described as a well-rehearsed coup d’etat carried out with the WTO secretariat in charge.  (See separate story by Martin Khor on the Committee of the Whole on this).

The process began with the opening ceremony of the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Friday, 9 November - normally a ceremonial occasion for the host country head of state or government, and other suitable non-controversial responses. The WTO secretariat contrived to smuggle the disputed draft declarations and other documents, prepared at Geneva into the simple opening ceremony.

Most developing countries have raised serious objections to the declaration.

Thus, after the Emir of Qatar and others had made their grand ceremonial speeches (where the Emir in effect launched the new round), and in the melee of the departure of the Emir, Mr. Stuart Harbinson, Chairman of the General Council, presented his now infamous draft declaration.

Since this was not a working session, simply a ceremonial one, and in the melee of making way for the Emir to take leave of his guests, the delegates did not have the chance or see it fit to object (as they would have if this slick manoeuvre had been attempted in a working session) to Harbinson presenting his text as the working document.

The full significance of this manoeuvre hit delegates on the morning of the following day, Saturday 10 November. At a meeting of the Heads of Delegation of all the member countries, the Qatari Minister of Trade, who is the Chair of the Conference, announced to delegates that, as they (the delegates) had agreed at the opening ceremony, the text presented by Harbinson is now the working document for the entire Conference! On this basis, he then announced a work plan to carry discussion forward: the appointment of the six “green men”; a schedule of discussions on identified subjects starting immediately with agriculture.  From the reports, what transpired after this was almost farcical, representing a new style of democratic governance at the WTO that will make Doha another milestone.

Apparently, after announcing his schedule, the Chairman was about to proceed immediately to discussion of the issue of agriculture when the WTO Director-General, sitting with him on the high table, drew his attention to the fact that some delegates wanted to raise issues with the procedure. Not knowing that the micro-phones were on, the Chairman was reported to have whispered something like: “but we are not supposed to give time for those kinds of discussions”, a whisper that came out loud and clear to all delegates, who laughed derisively.

The Chair then relented, however, and countries, including India, Uganda and Zimbabwe, raised serious questions of procedure for redress.

Without waiting for those questions to be addressed, he proceeded to invite other countries (Australia and New Zealand) to speak on the topic of agriculture, but they did not.

The upshot was that the Chairman merely noted the points of procedure raised and proceeded to have the day’s business as he had outlined it discussed. In short, he listened, but simply ignored what was said, and proceeded as if nothing contrary had been said against his announced procedure.

This tactic, and the Qatari minister’s way of dealing with the Indian Commerce Minister, Murasoli Maran, despite attempts to pass it off as a joke, will not be easily forgotten, neither at the WTO nor in India, and other developing countries.

The tactic of simply ignoring contrary views has now emerged as part of the arsenal of tricks being employed by the powerful members of the WTO to sideline the demands of the developing countries.

Instead of not consulting as in the past, the trick now is to consult but ignore views contrary to the person doing the consultation. This was exactly the method adopted by the Director-General Moore, together with Harbinson, during the Geneva preparatory process, resulting in the documents forwarded and presented to Doha on their own self-proclaimed authority.

After producing a first draft in September, and which developing countries criticised severely as imbalanced for including only issues raised by developed countries and excluding those raised by developing countries, and with the developing world restating their proposals, Harbinson produced a second draft that excluded even those developing country issues in the first draft; and not including any of their proposals for revising the first draft.

This throws light on the role that the six “green men” will be playing during the on-going Ministerial Conference - acting without set procedures, outside rules, and each free to adopt their own procedures, and none to ensure that the views they are hearing are reflected in their final report, nor any procedures to enable delegates to add other subject matter to those identified by the “green men”.

In short, the Friends of the Chair have been allowed to operate according to their own wisdom, to judge and put forward a document that is claimed to command consensus. In effect, the six “green men” represent a collusion between the management of the WTO, the Chair of the Ministerial Conference and the powerful countries to ensure that the outcome of the Ministerial reflect their will and interest. In the process they have shown that they are desperately prepared to ride rough-shod over the rules and procedures of the WTO .

This is a set-up designed to frustrate developing countries and subjugate them.  They have to jump through three handicaps in order to promote their interests in the on-going negotiations.

First, they arrive in Doha with an agenda for discussion which excluded their points of view. So rather than a balanced text in which everybody’s issues are taken as the point of negotiation, developing countries now have to fight for their issues to be included in the text in order to begin the battle of negotiations.

Secondly, if they manage to achieve this, they then have to withstand pressures, blackmail, bribery and threats from the developed countries in order to stand by their positions on the issues being negotiated.

On top of all this, thirdly, they now have to deal with a process which is calculated to make it impossible for them to include their issues in the negotiating agenda. This is the outrageous situation confronting developing countries - a Ministerial Conference of Ministers for Ministers, as Mr. Moore said at a press conference in Geneva, at the end of what he claimed in Doha, was a fully transparent and inclusive process, and hence, legitimising the Geneva process.

Welcome to the Doha Ministerial Conference and the WTO’s ‘free trade’ multilateral trading system.

(* Tetteh Hormeku is trade coordinator at Third World Network’s Africa Secretariat based in Accra, Ghana.) – SUNS5008

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