Deeply divided WTO faces moment of truth

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Doha, 12 Nov 2001 - The World Trade Organization, on the fourth day of its 4th Ministerial Conference, finds itself a deeply divided house, and facing a situation where attempts to create and announce, and ram through an artificial, but non-existent consensus will damage the WTO and the trading system.

It will also destroy the unity and the uneasy coalition achieved in world polity, in the aftermath of the 11 September events. No clever PR efforts and information management, restricting considerably, under claims of security, access and contacts between media and the government delegations engaged in the negotiating process, can get around this.

As a Caribbean delegate explained it to us, after their very meetings with WTO Director-General Mike Moore Saturday, Moore’s Plan A (launch of a new comprehensive round with new issues) has failed, and he had better apply his and the conference chair’s mind to at least managing a Plan B (a study process on all issues where countries are not ready or willing to take on new obligations), and remedy the past (as Sonny Ramphal put it at the LMG meeting here).

Any further attempts, as the Conference chair tried to do on Saturday (see two separate stories by Martin Khor and Tetteh Hormeku) to ignore objections and gavel down a non-existent consensus, would irretrievably split, and destroy the WTO. The view that the smaller and poorer countries need a multilateral system more than the powerful should not be overstretched, nor the socalled dangers of proliferation of regional and bilateral pacts, since the WTO has become merely an instrument for the threat of one to be used to gain at the other.

The big powers need the WTO even more. They are attempting to ride two horses at the same time, and the willingness of the small powers and developing countries to voluntarily carry out what cannot be enforced by gunboats or bombers or even market power.

And the host State of Qatar, which has been able to host this meeting only because a range of developing countries prevented manouvres of the US, EU and Moore to shift the venue (which from the beginning they did not like), has exceeded to the point of misuse of the privileges and courtesies normally extended to host countries by the guest. It began with the opening ceremony itself, normally expected to be non-controversial, but where every speaker indulged in partisanship in promoting one view. If it continues this tactic, it would damage itself and its efforts to present itself as a world conference venue and promote tourism.

There is still time to beat an orderly retreat, but will principals in their arrogance of power seize it or plunge ahead headlong, driven only by the greed of their corporations which through funding of electoral processes in the centres have already captured their governments, and now want to capture the world? Others figuring in this honour list include the USTR Robert Zoellick, EC Commissioner Pascal Lamy (and a host of development cooperation ministers of the EU, led by Claire Short of UK, using their funding to stifle critical voices inside the UN system and bribe and pressure Third World governments).

The attempts to launch a new round on the basis of new promises of Valhalla won’t wash.

As the Indian Prime Minister so picturesquely put it at the UN General Assembly Friday, developing countries were being asked to launch a new round at Doha on the promises of a post-dated cheque about benefits, when the old Uruguay Round cheque has bounced.

He spoke in the name of the people of India, but this is true of the people of most developing countries and the poor everywhere; people are not ready to accept this.

If these forebodings come to pass, the primary responsibility fully and squarely rest with the majors, and particularly the United States and the European Union and its member-states, all driven by their domestic political agendas, as Mr.  Moore has been with his own political ambitions to become Prime Minister back home in New Zealand at the end of his term in 2002.

And other high officials of the WTO and in the UN system too will be held responsible.

Every WTO meet appears to attempt to set new levels of undemocratic and non-transparent processes to proclaim transparent and participatory and inclusive consensus and efficient governance. This Conference, as the preparatory General Council processes in Geneva led by Council Chair Stuart Harbinson and DG Mike Moore claim they have, ended the secret manipulative and coercive ‘green room’ process.

This has been substituted by the ‘confessionals’, the same process of making a minority seem an overwhelming majority and attempting to enforce a non-existent consensus that brought Mike Moore to his post, but only by forcing a split-term on him.

These confessionals are unlike those of the Catholic Church which receives confessions under unbreakable promises of secrecy, and in return for genuine penitence and atonement, forgives the sinner of his or her sins in the name of God.

The confessionals here, ignore the ‘confessions’ to announce a false consensus and impose the will of the few on the vast majority in the name of the market god.

As the Indian trade minister, in a very forceful and blunt speech, put it in the General Debate, the World Trade Organization is not Global Government. It is just a trade organization for international trade under agreed rules, not even a free trade organization it often pretends to be.

On Sunday evening, the WTO’s Chief Spokesman, Keith Rockwell, told the media that on all the issues referred to facilitators, the house was deeply divided and there was no consensus - not on any of the Singapore issues, nor on agriculture or on environment negotiations at the WTO, or on rules of the WTO.  The TRIPS and Public Health and access to essential medicines too remained deadlock, with developing countries refusing to be fobbed off with a declaration that has no value added, and in fact seeks to restrict even their current limited flexibilities.

There are still 72 hours to the final gavel, and wisdom may still prevail.

They could just put together the mandated negotiations and reviews together into a package and call it a round, and adopt the declaration on TRIPS and Public Health and redeem themselves before civil society and the poor and afflicted everywhere, by accepting the first option: “Nothing in TRIPS shall prevent members from taking measures to protect public health. Accordingly ... we affirm that the agreement shall be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO Members’ right to protect public health and, in particular, to ensure access to medicines for all.”

This is the least that the sinners can do to atone for their grievous sins of greed. – SUNS5008

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

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