Doha meet kicked off to ‘democratic’ start

The Doha Ministerial was characterised by the sort of Machiavellian manoeuvrings that have become the hallmark of the WTO’s operations. As the following article written on the second day reveals, even before the substantive deliberations could begin, developing-country participants were already on the receiving end of manipulative tactics which bore little semblance of democratic principles.

THE negotiating process at the WTO’s Fourth Ministerial Conference  kicked off on 10 November morning with a controversial meeting of heads of delegation which sought to set the framework of the organisation of work of the conference.

When the meeting started, the Chair of the conference, the Qatar Minister of Trade, said the draft declaration dated 27 October (which had been transmitted by General Council Chair Stuart Harbinson and Director-General Mike Moore) would be taken as the basic document for discussion. As time was short and the business would have to be finished by the end of the day, six issues had been identified and the ‘friends of the Chair’ had been asked to facilitate the discussion of these six issues.

Six facilitators for six issues

He then announced the six issues and the countries asked to facilitate the discussions: Singapore issues (Canada), TRIPS and health (Mexico), environment (Chile), agriculture (Singapore), implementation (Switzerland), and WTO rules (South Africa).   He also announced the times of the meetings on the issues, with an hour and a half allocated to each, all of which were set for 10 November: 9-10.30am for agriculture, 10.30am to 12pm for implementation, 12-1.30pm for environment, 3-4.30pm for WTO rules, 4.30-6pm for Singapore issues, and 9-10.30pm for TRIPS and health.

He said each delegation would be given only three minutes for presentation.  He then proposed that the meeting move immediately to discuss agriculture.

At this point, the Indian delegation raised its flag to speak. Moore, sitting by the side of the chair, said to the Chairman that a few delegations wanted to take the floor on procedural questions.  The Chair’s reply to Moore (which was conveyed to everyone in the room over the loudspeaker system through his microphone, which was on) was: ‘We don’t give them the time.’ Many participants greeted this with loud and derisive laughter.

India’s proposals

Indian Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran then took the floor.  He made the following proposals: (1) The facilitators should also put on record and present (as part of the negotiating text) any other texts (formulations other than the Harbinson text) that are now presented by delegations; (2) No attempt should be made to present a ‘consensus text’ if there is in fact no consensus; (3) Delegates should be able to analyse reports of the facilitators, and the reports should be submitted to participants a few hours before the meetings, and there should not be any attempts to get last-minute endorsements from delegations.

When the Indian Minister finished speaking, the Chair immediately invited Australia to speak.  The Australian representative said he wanted to speak on agriculture (and not on procedures), so he would speak later.  The Chair then invited New Zealand to speak. Its delegate also indicated he would speak later.

The Zimbabwe Minister Herbert Murerwa then took the floor and said his delegation could only accept the outcome of the meeting provided there is full transparency in the process.

Jamaica’s head of delegation, Amb. Ransford Smith, said he was seeking clarification. There were a number of issues other than the six announced by the Chair on which there were differences of opinion and view.  Could the Chairman tell participants when these would be discussed?

The Bangladesh Minister then said that the six issues announced did not include the LDCs issue and asked when this would be discussed.

The Ugandan Trade Minister Edward Rugumayo subsequently said that he would like to raise a procedural question.  Could the Chairman reveal how he had selected the ‘friends of the Chair’ (who would act as facilitators)? He raised his concern that none of them came from an LDC. He then stated that the process by which decisions are made must be inclusive and transparent.

The Pakistan Minister stated: ‘We could work on the basis of the text but it must be understood that the Geneva text is not a consensus text and there are many brackets in silence in it.’ He agreed with the three procedural points made by India.  He also said the implementation issue involved a separate decision and action on it had to be taken before a decision on the declaration.

He added that there were issues like debt that were absent from the text, and there were also certain issues in the text that should not be there, such as labour standards in the preamble.

There was also a need to discuss the section on the organisation of the work programme, which mentioned the single undertaking.

There were a few more flags, but the Chairman proceeded to make conclusions.  He said the friends of the Chair do not represent any group but would act in their personal capacity. On the need for transparency (raised by some delegations), he said the facilitators have taken note.  On issues other than the six announced, he said the time for meetings would be announced later. Also, the Geneva text is only a draft and the basis for discussion. He reminded delegations that each had only three minutes to speak.

He then moved the meeting on to the agriculture issue.