Chairman Harbinson and DG Moore act rulelessly at WTO

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 31 Oct 2001 -- The rules-based six-year old World Trade Organization set up under the Marrakesh treaty (a formal international treaty) took another step to prove to the world its illegitimate, rule-less and undemocratic, but power-based character, when without any authority or rule, the Chairman of the General Council and the WTO Director-General announced that they would send the draft ministerial declaration and other drafts prepared by them to the Doha Ministers.

The document and the various parts of the work programme, one Third World diplomat (from a country that theoretically favours the new round) said represented nearly 75 percent of the US views, and the balance that of the European Union.

Though there would be some covering letter, it would not, as many members complained, clearly indicate to the ministers the positions of various members on the various issues and in the words of several ambassadors, there would be a text before the Doha meeting that would be full of mental square brackets.

If the Ministers at Doha find themselves in a mess, they have to blame themselves for not clearly instructing their ambassadors and representatives to formally object in the General Council.

And when the history of the failures of the system are written, in the not too distant future, the major industrialized nations and Mr. Harbinson and Mr. Moore will find mention in some footnote somewhere.

In opening the discussions on the text at the meeting Wednesday, Mr. declared that he and the WTO Director-General Mike Moore, who had prepared these documents, would neither revise their drafts documents to present clear options nor outline them in the light of opposing views of delegations nor present a comprehensive accompanying letter setting out detailed views and objections of delegations to various parts of the documents, but that they would present the documents as they were.

The documents would go before the Doha meeting on 9 November, without the 10-day notice required either.

Formally, it would be for the ministers when they assemble to decide whether to waive the notice and accept the documents and agenda and discuss them, or surrender to the power of the Quad and yield on their procedural rights, and the substantive interests of their countries in launching such a wide range of negotiations, bringing more issues and subjects under the remit and power of the WTO, which the civil society movements have already begun to characterise as the World Terror Organization.

The General Council of the WTO which convened Wednesday was still continuing late in the night to discuss the implementation questions, and perhaps will continue Thursday morning.

Chairman Harbinson apparently claimed inside the General Council that he had the authority to forward the documents to the Ministers on his own.

The WTO’s Chief Spokesman, Mr. Keith Rockwell, in briefing the media, did not cite any rule of the WTO and the General Council, but said their research showed there was “a degree of inconsistency” in the procedures, about the right of the Chair and the DG to act thus and that ‘flexibility’ was the watchword.

In fact in respect of all the earlier ministerial conferences there have been very explicit or at least by implication, the consent of the General Council for the Chairman to present documents on his own personal responsibility.

The Doha Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization will thus be faced with a draft ministerial declaration from the Chairman of the WTO, a purported clean text which apart from the covering note indicates nowhere the objections of delegations, but one full of ‘mental square brackets’ forcing ministers either to negotiate details of such a text or create a situation worse than that in Seattle.

The General Council Chair, opened the discussions on the draft declaration with a defiant statement that he was not going to revise the draft, despite the objections from delegations, and that it was for the ministers in Doha to tackle the differences.

The four Quad member-countries showed disdain by not even intervening and speaking at the Council, and those who did and were critical contented themselves at this time merely to ask their views and positions to be reflected fully in the covering letter of the Chairman, as also in the report of the General Council.

Ministers will thus be faced with the unenviable task of either rejecting or negotiating, under conditions of extreme insecurity, because of the US war on ‘terrorism’ and the ‘bombing of Afghanistan’ that has aroused protests and anger even in countries supporting actions against the Taliban. – SUNS5000

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

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