Institutionalizing the “green men” of Doha at WTO?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

GENEVA: The use of “facilitators” appointed well before the next WTO Ministerial Conference who are able to “travel and consult” has been suggested by Mike Moore, the Director-General of the world trade body, as a way to improve “the management and systems” of the WTO and its decision-making processes at Ministerial meetings.

Moore’s suggestion is contained in a letter sent  by him, soon after his return from Doha, to the ambassadors of the WTO Member countries.

If the  suggestion  is accepted, it would result in ‘institutionalizing’ the consultation and decision-making process that came into play during the preparations for and at the 4th Ministerial Conference.

The EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, in a recent (post-Doha) speech at Berlin, has said the “absurd” difficulties of decision-making in the WTO point to the need for urgent  reform in the organization, “something which I know Mike Moore, the current Director-General, is very keen to see.”

Subtle campaign

In the meanwhile, through reports in the ‘WTO-friendly’ media since the Doha Ministerial meeting (which have been prominently reproduced in the WTO’s daily ‘journal’ of newspaper clippings and ‘for the benefit’ of delegations who may not otherwise have seen them), there has been a subtle campaign against Moore’s already chosen successor, Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand.

(In a speech in New Delhi on 2 December (at a meeting organized by the World Economic Forum), Supachai has spoken about the need for the WTO negotiations to be carried out with great care to ensure that developing countries obtain the full benefits of the Doha agenda. While viewing the outcome as “good”, he cautioned that “developing countries would have to wait till the negotiations begin to watch the fine print.” He also said the technical assistance to developing countries and particularly the least developed countries promised at Doha is “needed prior to the negotiations commencing to enable these countries to participate in an informed manner.”)

Initial reports out of Doha had suggested that Supachai, who is slated to take office in August 2002, may not assume the post and may instead be ‘attracted’ to taking high office (as Prime Minister or Deputy) in his country; names of suitable successors (Hong Kong’s Ambassador to the WTO Stuart Harbinson and Alec Erwin, the South African Trade Minister) were mentioned.

This trial balloon failed to float, with ‘news’ from Thailand and the region that there was no basis for the reports that Supachai was going back to Thai politics, and that the next elections in Thailand are not due till 2005.

Then came a comment in the Financial Times (dutifully reproduced in the WTO daily journal) that former Mexican President Zedillo is interested in the job but that he has to first “engineer the departure” of Supachai, and that “the idea of Supachai backing down appeals to many governments who remain unconvinced about his ability to bring a round to completion.”

Power-based process

In private conversations, several of the ambassadors and negotiators from a range of developing countries who were at Doha and have been assessing the conference and its outcome, note that both in the process leading to the Ministerial and at the conference itself, the rules were flouted and the “rules-based, member-driven” system became a power-based, EU-US-secretariat-driven one.

During the preparatory process as well as at the conference itself, the consultation process became one of Members, individually and/or in plurilateral groups, ‘negotiating’ with the secretariat and, later at Doha, going through the charade of ministers giving their views to “facilitators” who had been named by the Chair of the Qatar meeting in an undemocratic way and without any prior consultations.

At Geneva in the run-up to Doha, the Chairman of the General Council Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong went through the motions of ‘confessionals’ with individual ambassadors or groups of them, and some ‘open-ended consultations’ as a transparency exercise.

There was then a ‘limited’ meeting of ministers held in Mexico at the end of August (where, as several ambassadors have reconstructed from conversations with those present, a work programme of sorts emerged). Then on the night of  26 September, Harbinson produced a draft Ministerial Declaration, on which there was a full discussion at an informal General Council meeting, followed by further processes of ‘confessionals’ and consultations held by Harbinson (on the declaration) and some of Moore’s deputies (on the implementation and other questions).

Then came the ‘limited’ meeting at Singapore on 13-14 October of more or less the same group of ministers as at Mexico. Subsequently, a work programme and draft on the old and new issues was formulated by Harbinson and the secretariat and was presented as the revised draft of Harbinson on 27 October.

After some further discussion at the General Council, Harbinson asserted his right to send directly to Doha, without any authorization from the General Council, the 27 October draft declaration formulated by him and the draft decision on implementation formulated by him and Moore. Harbinson and Moore also ignored the ‘requests’ in the General Council and official letters addressed by some delegations for bringing their own views and positions officially before the Doha Ministerial meeting.

At Doha the controversial texts of Harbinson and Moore were presented and tabled, in complete disregard of all protocol relating to such events, at the ceremonial opening meeting after the ceremonial speeches and in the melee surrounding the departure from the hall of the Emir of Qatar - so that no one could object or raise points of procedure.

On the following day, at the first heads-of-delegation meeting of the Committee of the Whole (COW), the Chair of the Conference, the Qatar Trade Minister, announced that as presented and agreed at the opening session, the Harbinson text would form the working document. He also announced the names of the “facilitators” and then went on to open the discussions on substantive issues, attempting to ignore objections from the floor from the Indian Commerce Minister and others. (The undemocratic methods surrounding the appointment and work of the facilitators led to their being branded the “green men”, after the “green room” negotiations which have been marked by similar manipulative processes.)

In retrospect, it is emerging that the ministers’ presentation of their viewpoints on various issues in the COW, followed over the next three days (and nights) by meetings of the facilitators with individual ministers or groups of them, were essentially just a process to make the ministers believe they were part of a process and to keep them busy (unlike in prior conferences in Seattle or Singapore).

The facilitators and the secretariat were working to a pre-ordained conclusion which had no relationship to the views conveyed by many ministers (as several of them admitted privately even at Doha on the night of 13-14 November).  This resulted in a new, revised draft (this time from the Chair of the Conference) presented on 13 November.

This was followed later that evening, from about 6 pm, by the “green room” process in Presidential Suite 11 of the conference centre. It was a meeting that went on mostly through the night, with short breaks for US and EC consultations and for the US to “run through its legal counsel” the EC drafts on environment produced in the green room suddenly at about 3 am of 14 November.

The discussions in the green room, reportedly conducted in English without any interpretations (without any of the usual protests from the French- or Spanish- speaking delegations present), and the way individual ministers were invited to participate (and represent countries and groups of them), apparently resulted in a situation where one of the ministers from the Latin American region present could not follow the proceedings in English.

And the way the conference itself was ‘extended’ (despite a previous announcement that midnight of the 13th was the deadline), without the normal process of a plenary meeting to decide it, and the holding-up of the final meeting, clearly brought out for many of the delegations the manipulative steamrollering process.

In his Berlin speech, Lamy has painted a picture of the WTO as one of the three pillars of global governance, the other two being the IMF and the World Bank on the one side and the UN system on the other. The EU Commissioner expressed satisfaction over the Doha outcome, including on the new issues (the four “Singapore issues”), though his remarks lead to the conclusion that he envisages negotiations to take much longer and the rules in the trading system covering these areas to be in place only around 2010.

Welcome to the three-pillared global governance system. (SUNS5024)

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