Invasion of the ‘green men’

Barely six hours after the official opening of the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference, the manipulative processes employed by the WTO Secretariat became clear with the appointment of six ‘facilitators’ (‘friends of the Chair’), all from countries which supported the launching of a new round of trade negotiations. The notorious ‘green room’ procedure which had characterised previous WTO conferences was now being replaced by the appointment of ‘green men’, with the same objective of pushing through a new round by undemocratic means.

by Tetteh Hormeku

THE undemocratic and manipulative methods which have characterised the operations of the WTO have moved into higher gear barely six hours after the official opening of the Fourth Ministerial Conference.

Six individuals (ministers) with open-ended powers have been appointed in a non-transparent manner to work out the elements of a consensus document to be adopted as the Ministerial Declaration. Operating without reference to any established and commonly agreed procedures, these six individuals, named as  ‘facilitators’ and ‘friends of the Chair’ (of the conference), are expected  to hold consultations with delegations. Each is free to decide their own procedures - some opted for  consultations open to all and then bilaterals, and others only bilaterals with  delegates - and out of these consultations produce what they judge to be the points of consensus for adoption in the Ministerial Declaration.

Many delegations and observers in Doha see this development as a worsening of the secretive and manipulative ‘green room’ methods which excluded many African and other developing countries and led to the collapse of the Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle two years ago.  This time, the  undemocratic methods and powers of the ‘green room’ have been concentrated in the hands of six individuals; and, as Martin Khor of the Third World Network put it at a briefing, the ‘green room’ has now given way to the ‘green men’.

The six ‘friends of the Chair’, who are supposed to deal with six subject matters on which there are to be consultations - the Ministers of Canada (Singapore issues); Mexico (TRIPS); Chile (environment); Singapore  (agriculture); Switzerland (implementation issues); and South Africa (WTO rules) - are all from countries which support the launch of negotiations on all or some of the controversial new issues.

Coup d’etat

The criteria for selection of the ‘friends’ remain a secret to most delegates, and so too the identification of the subject matters for consultation.  They were announced in a way which left delegates no room for objection. Indeed, the entire process surrounding the six ‘green men’ has been described as a well-rehearsed coup d’etat carried out with the WTO secretariat in charge.

The process began with the opening ceremony of the Ministerial Conference on 9 November. This would normally be a ceremonial occasion for the host-country head of state or government, and other suitable non-controversial responses. The WTO secretariat contrived, however, to smuggle the disputed draft declarations and other documents prepared at Geneva into the simple opening ceremony.

After the Emir of Qatar and others had made their grand ceremonial speeches (where the Emir in effect launched the new round), and in the melee surrounding the departure of the Emir, Stuart Harbinson, Chairman of the WTO General Council, presented his now infamous draft declaration, to which most developing countries have raised serious objections.

Since this was not a working session, simply a ceremonial one, and in the confusion of making way for the Emir to take leave of his guests, the delegates did not have the chance or see it fit to object (as they would have if this slick manoeuvre had been attempted in a working session) to Harbinson presenting his text as the working document.

The full significance of this move hit delegates on the morning of the following day, 10 November.  At a meeting of the heads of delegation of all the Member countries, the Qatari Minister of Trade, who is the Chair of the conference, announced to delegates that, as they (the delegates) had agreed at the opening ceremony, the text presented by Harbinson is now the working document for the entire conference! On this basis, he then announced a work plan to carry discussion forward: the appointment of the six ‘green men’; a schedule of discussions on identified subjects, starting immediately with agriculture.


From the reports, what transpired after this was almost farcical, representing a new style of democratic governance at the WTO that will make Doha another milestone. Apparently, after announcing his schedule, the Chairman was about to proceed immediately to discussion of the issue of agriculture when the WTO Director-General Mike Moore, sitting with him at the high table, drew his attention to the fact that some delegates wanted to raise issues with the procedure. Not knowing that the microphones were on, the Chairman was reported to have whispered something like: ‘But we are not supposed to give time for those kinds of discussions,’ a whisper that came out loud and clear to all delegates, who laughed derisively.

The Chair then relented, however, and countries, including India, Uganda and Zimbabwe, raised serious questions of procedure for redress.

Without waiting for those questions to be addressed, he proceeded to invite other countries (Australia and New Zealand) to speak on the topic of agriculture, but they did not.

The upshot was that the Chairman merely noted the points of procedure raised and proceeded to have the day’s business as he had outlined it discussed. In short, he listened but simply ignored what was said, and continued as if nothing contrary had been said against his announced procedure.

This tactic, and the Qatari Minister’s way of dealing with the Indian Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran, despite attempts to pass it off as a joke, will not be easily forgotten, either at the WTO or in India and other developing countries.

The tactic of simply ignoring contrary views has now emerged as part of the arsenal of tricks being employed by the powerful Members of the WTO to sideline the demands of the developing countries.

Consult, but ignore

Instead of not consulting, as in the past, the trick now is to consult but ignore views contrary to those of the person doing the consulting.  This was exactly the method adopted by the Director-General Moore, together with Harbinson, during the Geneva preparatory process, resulting in the documents forwarded and presented to Doha on their own, self-proclaimed authority.

After producing a first draft Ministerial Declaration in September, which developing countries criticised severely as being imbalanced for including largely only issues raised by developed countries and excluding those raised by developing countries, and with the developing world restating their proposals, Harbinson produced a second draft that excluded even those developing-country issues in the first draft and did not include any of their proposals for revising the first draft.

This throws light on the role that the six ‘green men’ will be playing during the ongoing Ministerial Conference - acting without set procedures and outside rules, and each free to adopt their own procedures. There is no assurance that the views they hear will be reflected in their final report, nor are there any procedures to enable delegates to add other subject matters to those identified by the ‘green men’.

In short, the friends of the Chair have been allowed to operate according to their own wisdom, to judge and put forward a document that is claimed to command consensus. In effect, the six ‘green men’ represent a collusion between the management of the WTO, the Chair of the Ministerial Conference and the powerful countries to ensure that the outcome of the Ministerial reflects their will and interest.  In the process they have shown that they are desperately prepared to ride roughshod over the rules and procedures of the WTO.

Three hurdles

This is a set-up designed to frustrate developing countries and subjugate them.  They have to cross three hurdles in order to promote their interests in the ongoing negotiations.

Firstly, they arrived in Doha facing an agenda for discussion which excluded their points of view. So, rather than a balanced text in which everybody’s issues are taken as the point of negotiation, developing countries now have to fight for their issues to be included in the text in order to begin the battle of negotiations.

Secondly, if they manage to achieve this, they then have to withstand pressures, blackmail, bribery and threats from the developed countries in order to stand by their positions on the issues being negotiated.

On top of all this, thirdly, they now have to deal with a process which is calculated to make it impossible for them to include their issues in the negotiating agenda.

This, then, is the outrageous situation confronting developing countries in what has been touted by Moore as a Ministerial Conference of ministers for ministers. Welcome to the Doha Ministerial Conference and the WTO’s ‘free trade’ multilateral trading system.                                     

Tetteh Hormeku is trade coordinator at Third World Network’s Africa Secretariat, which is based in Accra, Ghana. The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS - issue no. 5008).