by Martin Khor

Geneva 24 Nov 99 -- When Ministers and officials converge in Seattle for the WTO Ministerial, they will most likely be facing a confusing array of meetings, including the so-called "green room" informal small-group meetings, in which most Members will be excluded but where much of the real negotiations may take place.

The scenario of a variety of formal and informal meetings taking place at Seattle emerged at a press briefing given Tuesday by the WTO director-general Mike Moore and General Council chairman Ali Mchumo as well as from an informal briefing by US Ambassador Rita Hayes.

The official briefing by Moore and Mchumo was marked by sharp questions from journalists who wanted to know why the talks in Geneva failed to produce a text for Seattle with reasonable extent of agreement, and what procedures would be followed to transmit the Geneva documents and state of play to Seattle.

Amb. Mchumo said the Geneva-based diplomats had not been able to agree to a consensus text, so his Oct 19 draft, would be the text Ministers would use in Seattle, together with the "working papers" he issued in 17 November. He said the main areas of difficulty were agriculture and implementation. "What remains is for our political bosses to make the decisions. It's possible to close the gaps."

Moore said that "despite the best endeavours in the world we are unable to facilitate an agreement," also naming agriculture and implementation as the obstacles, adding "Ministers now will have to show flexibility among themselves in Seattle."

Moore said that at stake were jobs and living standards, and quoted an EU study claiming that a new Round could boost world output by $400 billion.

It may be noted that in 1992 and 1993, before the negotiations in the Uruguay Round were concluded, estimates of $250 billion gains were thrown around, and after Marrakech in 1994, the then GATT secretariat upped the figures to above $500 billion. These proved wild guesses and estimates, and very recently has been ridiculed by Prof.Arvind Panagariya of Maryland University, himself an economist using models. Despite it, the EC has now come up with claims of welfare gains and GDP growth if its agendas are accepted for the new round, and Mr. Moore chose to cite them at his press conference, adding though "these are their figures".

Moore was asked if he would bring up a consensus document himself. He replied it was for the Ministers now to decide as the Secretariat were merely facilitators for them.

He was asked if he would send a letter to the Conference, and if so what that would say. But Moore said he could not tell what precisely it would say.

Another journalist commented that since the WTO was a rules-based organisation, he would like to know under what rule would Moore be sending his letter to the Conference chairperson, regarding the Geneva negotiations (including what happened in the 'green-room' process).

He asked whether it wasn't correct that the Director-General could only send such a letter under the direction of the General Council and has the General Council authorized it or asked for it?

Mr. Mchumo who was by the side of Moore did not respond. Moore was evasive in his response, only saying that the Chairman and Council are the supreme bodies and "everything goes back to them."

Moore claimed that the present process had been more transparent than before. There were legitimate differences, "so we cannot have a draft." He added he had learnt from the bad press on the lack of transparency in the Singapore Ministerial.

Another journalist commented that many developing-country diplomats had expressed unhappiness over the 'green-room' process in Geneva and were very upset by the prospect of their Ministers having to also endure being excluded from 'Green Room' meetings in Seattle. Moore was asked to confirm whether there would be 'green-room' meetings among a few Ministers, as in Singapore, aside from the working groups, as the holding of such meetings had been indicated by the US Ambassador.

(Earlier, in an informal corridor briefing, US Amb. Rita Hayes was asked if there would be 'green-room' meetings in Seattle. She said Seattle would see big formal and informal meetings as well as meetings of small groups. "Outside the negotiations there will also be groups working to get things done," she said.) Moore said there will be meetings of various sizes and configurations. "If a situation arises where we can add to the process by talking to one or two Ministers in a corner, then we will do it," he said.

Moore added that in the Geneva in the past weeks, there had not been simultaneous 'Green Room' meetings. In Seattle, each Chairman would reserve the right to have a chat with someone.

Amb. Mchumo said that "in terms of transparency we are not the best example." But the recent 'Green-Room' meetings were not the same as in GATT as it had involved more delegations. He said that in Seattle the process will be "inclusive", it would be better than in Singapore.

"We are all very unhappy at what happened in Singapore, where 30 of us were negotiating in a room," said Mchumo. When Moore interjected by saying that Mchumo had also been in the room, Amb Mchumo responded: "Yes, my country was invited but we do not know why, or what criteria was used to choose us."

Amb Mchumo said this kind of situation was not acceptable. "The majority of Ministers were not invited, and were languishing in corridors. Seattle will be different."

(Whilst Moore and Mchumo thus tried to give the impression that the Seattle meeting would be "inclusive" and more transparent (at least compared to the low-point of the Singapore meeting), they did not answer the question whether the real negotiations would again take place among a few delegations.)

(Even if all Ministers can speak at the plenary and take part in the working groups (and thus a situation is avoided where they have nothing to do), it was not at all clear from the press briefing whether the actual negotiations would again be conducted in exclusive by-invitation-only small groups.)

A journalist asked why the stalemate had occurred. Was it because the NGOs had protested and had given the jitters to politicians who were less ready to decide, or "are we touching on issues close to the hearts of governments, or has the WTO just grown so large so there was now a diversity of views? "

Moore said the situation is more complex due to the broader membership, but the real difficulties had to do with national interests.

Ambassadors have briefs and bottom lines that contrasted with those of others. "But it is good there are more countries and Ambassadors fighting in their own corner." Moore reiterated that in the WTO decisions must be by consensus. He added that Ministers who have to be elected are accountable to people and their views are the expressions of the views of people.

Another journalist asked, isn't it better for WTO members to conclude that the world is not ready for a new Round? There is already a lot to negotiate on the built-in-agenda of agriculture and services.

Moore replied by talking of the world needing more jobs and is changing, with technology and commerce expanding at a fast rate. But, he added, unlike some other international organisations, "we are completely controlled by our Members." (SUNS4559)

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

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

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