Major differences, gaps remain on Doha and beyond

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 4 Oct 2001 - At the end of three days of extended discussions and views and comments of delegations, the chairman of the General Council, Mr. Stuart Harbinson, appears to have summed up the discussions and announced his intention to go ahead with bilateral and plurilateral consultations to revise his draft to fill in gaps, but leaving the impression that the agendas of the majors, particularly the US and EC and Japan would not be changed.

The General Council, in informal sessions, has had extended discussions and views on both the Harbinson draft on a Ministerial Declaration and the Harbinson-Moore drafts on implementation. While a range of developing countries have spoken critically on both drafts, as one trade diplomat put it, the Harbinson summing up was as if he had come prepared to announce his summing up, and as if no critical, fundamentally opposing views and gaps have come out in the discussions.

Harbinson merely indicated, trade diplomats said, that over the next two days he would hold consultations, to fill in the gaps where texts had not been developed (on agriculture, TRIPS and one or two other areas where no texts have been provided in his draft) and on implementation issues, and that he would hold a Sunday morning ‘informal heads of delegations meeting’.

Harbinson apparently is due to travel to Paris to see the French Finance and Trade Ministers (neither of whom want to have a round, with a forward-looking agriculture agenda, with a French election due in some months).

Trade ambassadors and negotiators said no text of Harbinson summing up had been provided, and his oral summing up from the chair (from a prepared text of sorts) was read, but it was not possible to catch all the nuances. However, many came away with the impression that there would be another attempt to ride rough over the dissenters and critics, take a text to Doha - ensuring that all the Quad, agendas and formulations in new areas remain intact, and some further ‘lollipops’ and ‘sweeteners’ could be selectively provided to some countries, to divide the developing countries, including the like-minded group.

According to reports from Washington DC, and trade diplomats at Geneva, the US has called in Pakistan and its textile negotiators for consultations, to provide them with some textile quota benefits (as part of the package for Pakistan’s support and bases to move against the Taliban). Other Asians and Africans are also sought to be ‘won over’ with some aid and market access offers. Whether even this information at the WTO is part of the campaign of misinformation or an effort to sell a saleable package to Congress (as the fight against the Taliban, and not concessions at the WTO) is not clear.

And as the WTO Director-General and Harbinson seem intent on attempting an outcome sought by the two majors, the same observers and senior officials in other international organizations, who before Seattle, were predicting that negotiations could not be stopped at Seattle and developing countries should prepare to negotiate, but claimed after the event that they knew this would happen, are now taking a defeatist view in relation to Doha.

Meanwhile, considerable gaps and differences over the substance and approach of the Harbinson draft for a Doha Ministerial Declaration have come out into the open at the informal General Council meetings; but there is an attempt to brush them aside, push through the agenda of the majors and the secretariat, and get a Ministerial meeting in Doha (under the shadow of US-EU NATO naval and other military forces and the coalition against the Taliban) to launch a round as at Punta del Este, with a mandate and details to be set later (as USTR Robert Zoellick advocated soon after he took office).

This kind of effort, to ‘hitch-hike’(as the Washington Post called it, ‘even before the dust had settled down’ on the New York twin towers) or ride the crest of flag-waving patriotism among American people, to push the conservative domestic agendas of the US - drilling for oil in the arctic, more tax cuts for the rich via capital gains tax abolition or reduction, and even packing the US Supreme Court with more conservative judges as Wall Street Journal advised Bush to do (to bring in the Nafta concept of ‘property taking,’ state regulations and actions reducing future corporate earnings without full compensation, into domestic law) making use of the wide public support for President Bush.

Acknowledging that this was being resisted by the Bush administration, and even while supporting ‘free trade’ against Congressman Rengel and other Democrats, the New York Times columnist, Mr. Paul Krugman, denounced Robert Zoellick’s attempt to get domestic trade negotiating authority and launch a new round at the WTO by using the ‘terrorist attacks’.

At the WTO, it is not merely Zoellick who is pushing that agenda, but Mr. Pascal Lamy and the EC Commission and the major corporations of the world - even as Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld in the US, and Tony Blair their staunchest ally in Europe, are trying to put together and hold a very shaky coalition (because of fears of governments about popular anger in siding with US) against the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.

Unwittingly, or in an Eurocentric attempt to exercise power, the WTO leadership, Zoellick and Lamy, are setting the stage for an agreement that would even under current international law (which does not recognize agreements under economic threats as coercion) may qualify as a force majeure international agreement (repudiable by subsequent generations in sovereign states, under the concept of inalienable sovereign rights of peoples that governments can’t cede).

On 2 October, before the General Council met in informal session in the afternoon to discuss the draft declaration, the ‘friends of the round’ (a group of some 20 countries promoting a new round - the majors, some developing countries like Brazil etc) had met in the morning to assess the draft declaration; and it became known afterwards to other delegations that “the friends of the round are no longer so friendly, and that far from the ‘friends’ being able to work towards bridging the gaps between the two sides, the drafts had made it more difficult, and there was greater polarization,” and there are “no more friends,” one of the participants commented.

[According to a report in the Gazeta Mercantil, the economic daily of Brazil, by Mr. Assiz Moreira, a special correspondent in Geneva for the paper, confrontation between industrialized and developing countries on their agendas became much more evident and stronger, during the meeting of 20 countries which represent more than 80% of world trade, and comprising the group of the ‘friends of the round’. The report quoted the Brazilian envoy, Amb. Celso Amorim, as saying, “even the friends of the round are not eliminating important divergences on the agenda.”]

This view perhaps is mainly because of the agriculture non-text, where the Cairns group is basically hanging to the coat-tails of the US (as in the runup to Punta del Este in 1986) to get some language that they could sell back home to their parliaments and businesses, that the new round would bring them benefits in the agricultural area, that were not delivered in the Uruguay Round.

There were other indications Wednesday that Japan was not changing its position on agriculture, and would put a reserve - with some vague promise that their Minister could change the position at Doha, the kind of devious promises that were made before Seattle. Refusing to change at Seattle, the Japanese agriculture minister went back home and declared, after Seattle, how he had stood firm and saved Japanese farmers and agriculture!

Separately, in an UNCTAD-UN sponsored video-link and discussions and exchange of views between some Geneva representatives (at the Trade and Development Board) and New York diplomats and members of the bureau in New York for the forthcoming UN Conference on Financing for Development, the Moroccan ambassador here, in giving his own appraisal of the situation at the WTO, appears to have attempted to put a positive gloss on the situation and oulook.

However, the Dominican ambassador, Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo, told the New York colleagues that the situation was worse than before Seattle, and looking at things ‘through tinted glasses’ would be deeply misleading.

At the WTO, a range of developing countries made known their objections to the structure, objectives, modalities and the principles behind the draft Declaration for Doha, and warned against all these being brushed aside and momentum sought to be created for a new round.

While the nuances in their prepared statements, and many oral and extempore comments, could be and perhaps would be interpreted by the majors and the WTO, for spreading mis-information in various capitals about their ‘isolation’ against the new round and new issues, a careful reading of the texts that were made available by some delegations, and the oral briefings of others, showed clear objections from Asia and Africa and some of the Caribbean countries. The Cairns group, whether it be the ‘leader’ Australia, or the Southern cone Latin Americans members, are clearly are waiting to see what they could get in agricultural mandate, and said at this point they could make no judgement.

With more developing countries speaking up Wednesday morning, at another informal General Council session on the Harbinson-Moore ‘implementation package’ and, with apparently most if not all developing countries having so far come out strongly against a document virtually empty of content, Harbinson reportedly acknowledged that there was no consensus to adopt it, and he would hold further consultations.

But the session was marked by the Deputy USTR, Mr. Peter Allgeier, angrily expressing disappointment at the rejection of the implementation decision by the developing countries. He insisted that the US had shown accommodation in the number of tirets, now covered by the Annex I and II, and the concerns and objections in Congress over what was being conceded in textiles (advanced implementation of a very small growth-on-growth quota benefit to take place next year, for an agreement that automatically ends and eliminates all quotas in 3-1/2 years, if the US and EC ‘commitments’ in the WTO are implemented as assumed) and even anti-dumping in best endeavour language. Firmer language was not possible since it would involve renegotiations and Congressional approval.  Allgeir then cited US base-ball analogies, to argue that in base-ball a 0.3 score average was considered very good, and by counting number of tirets there was a much higher 0.5 score.

Both Allgeier and the previous day, the EC representative, without mentioning India by name, were critical of the Indian stand, and angry with the support it had with other developing countries. In a response, India told the informal meeting that the implementation issue had been before the General Council for three years, and the outcome could not be judged in terms of the ‘number of tirets’.

Allgeier and others, perhaps had not heard of biological or human instincts for survival that motivate the poor who have no margins or averages for success, have individually no negotiating power but have realised that driven against the wall, they could resist, their survival instincts being more basic than ‘greed’ and other instincts that those following an opportunistic philosophy and the duplicitous imperial (old and new) legacies use to judge the present. Nor have they perhaps heard of Aryabhatta’s and his student’s treatises and commentaries on mathematics, which was studied by Islamic scholars of the Caliphate era (and the Hindus at that time did not look down on Muslims, and the Muslims and Caliphs did not spurn such learning either) to learn and absorb, develop and spread science and mathematics to Christian Europe (which was not an advanced civilization, notwithstanding Berlosconis and Martin Wolfes).

In that literature (only recently brought to western audiences by French scholars, for e.g., George Ifrah in the ‘Universal History of Numbers’ and by mathematicians), after explaining the mathematical theories of averages - arithmetic, geometric and the mean averages - Aryabhatta enunciated the fallacies of the law of averages. He said non-swimmers who try to ford and traverse a river, on foot, by averaging the depth of the water, are bound to drown and die, just as in swimming across a deep well, what counts is not half or three-fourths success, but only full success.

And, in dealing with implementation problems and issues, trade diplomats can’t convince parliaments and businesses back home that in return for new negotiations for new obligations, they have had a mechanical average 50% score in implementation.

Mr. Harbinson indicated Wednesday that in view of this, the formal General Council (which had been called to adopt the Annex I of the document, but which has been spurned by the developing world, undeterred by the private threats and views that if it were not adopted now, the implementation issue would fade away) would not be put off, while Mr. Harbinson would hold further consultations to find a consensus package. – SUNS4981

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

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