WTO negotiating bodies’ chairs named, after another non-transparent process

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

GENEVA: After an admittedly non-transparent (and thus manipulative) process, the General Council of the World Trade Organization on 15 February named the chairpersons of eight negotiating bodies for the new round of negotiations, drawn, with one exception, from countries that have been promoting or supporting a new round with new issues.

As part of the slate, the Council also named the chairpersons of  17 regular WTO bodies, including electing Ambassador Sergio Marchi of Canada as the Chairman of the General Council. While Marchi and the others named to chair the regular WTO bodies will hold office for a year, those named to head the negotiating bodies will hold those jobs until the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference.

Under the agreed dispensation, special sessions of the Committee on Agriculture which are to run the agriculture negotiations will be chaired by Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China, and the special sessions of the Council for Trade in Services to run the services talks by Amb. Alejandro Jara of Chile.

The chairpersons for the six other bodies to run various parts of the negotiations are: Amb. Pierre-Louise Girard of Switzerland for the Negotiating Group on Non-Agricultural Market Access; Amb. Timothy John Groser of New Zealand (Negotiating Group on Rules); Amb. Yolande Bike of Gabon (special sessions of the Committee on Trade and Environment); Amb. Eui Yong Chang of Korea (special sessions of the Council for TRIPS); Amb. Peter Balas of Hungary (special sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB)); and Amb. Ransford Smith of Jamaica (Committee on Trade and Development(CTD)).

At the General Council, where the slate was accepted and elected, developing-country delegations objected to the way the consultations had been held and the nominees chosen. The outgoing Council Chairman Harbinson, who had conducted these consultations, acknowledged the validity of the criticisms, and proposed that a committee of former chairpersons of the General Council study new consultation processes.

Several developing-country delegations, speaking on condition of non-attribution, said that the process was probably worse than the Doha process, where a sudden slate of “facilitators” (pre-selected by the Quad countries) were declared appointed by the Doha Conference Chair.

The current selection process was so non-transparent that neither the names of all the nominees and/or aspirants, nor those who promoted their candidacies, were known. Also not known were the identities of those who had been considered but were objected to by one or another member. While Harbinson was chosen to head the agriculture talks probably because of the fact that Hong Kong China was considered ‘neutral’ as between the Cairns Group and Europe and Japan (the main protagonists in the agriculture negotiations), it was nevertheless a case of Harbinson conducting a consultation process in which he was the consensus candidate!

The one known case where there was probably an overwhelming consensus (save, perhaps, for among the Quad and the WTO secretariat) was that of Amb. Kare Bryn of Norway, who as Chair of the General Council in 2000  had earned a reputation among developing-country members as an independent and  fair-minded person. At one stage, he had been proposed by several of them to head the Trade Negotiations Committee that is to oversee the conduct of the new round of negotiations (a post which eventually went to the WTO Director-General).

One developing-country delegate said that his name had been suggested by several members to head one of the important negotiating bodies, and that Bryn had shown willingness to undertake such a responsibility, but that he was ‘offered’ the chairmanship of the special sessions of the DSB to run the negotiations on the rules of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. Bryn reportedly had said that particular position needed to be assumed by someone with some legal expertise.

As a result, instead of some other negotiating body being found which he might be willing to lead, Bryn’s name dropped out of the consultations, the trade diplomat said.

For the DSB special sessions too, there had been an attempt to name one of the three retiring Appellate Body members as the chair, but this was ruled out by delegations who insisted that all bodies should be chaired by Geneva-based ambassadors. Ultimately Amb. Balas of Hungary was selected.

In December, some names of former WTO officials were floated by the secretariat and the powers that be, but the decision reached, while naming the TNC chair and setting up the negotiating structures, that the chairs should be drawn from among Geneva-based representatives of countries ruled these out.

Amb. Munir Akram of Pakistan, who had apparently sought the chairmanship of the special sessions of the CTD (to negotiate special and differential treatment issues) but did not find favour, is now being named as chair of the working party on the accession of Saudi Arabia.

The chairs of the regular WTO bodies for 2002 are:

General Council - Amb. Sergio Marchi of Canada; Dispute Settlement Body - Amb. Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay; Trade Policy Review Body - Amb. Amina Chawahir Mohamed of Kenya;  Council for Trade in Goods - Amb. M. Supperamaniam of Malaysia;  Council for Trade in Services -  Amb. Mary Whelan of Ireland; TRIPS Council - Amb. Eduardo Perez Motta of Mexico; Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration - Mr. Neil McMillan of the UK; BOP Committee - Amb. Anda Cristina Filip of Romania; Committee on Trade and Development - Amb. Toufiq Ali of Bangladesh; Committee on Regional Trade Agreements - Amb. Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe; Committee on Trade and Environment - Amb. Oguz Demiralp of Turkey; Committee on Agriculture - Dr. Magdi Farahat of Egypt.

Also named were chairs of the working groups: Trade and Investment - Amb. Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa of Brazil; Trade and Competition Policy - Prof. Frederic Jenny of France; Transparency in Government Procurement - Amb. Ronald Saborio Soto of Costa Rica; Trade, Debt and Finance - Amb. Hernando Jose Gomez of Colombia; and Trade and Transfer of Technology - Amb. Stefan Haukur Johanesson of Iceland. (SUNS5063)

TWE No. 274 (1-15 Feb 2002)