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Transparency and participation in the WTO decision-making process and procedures

As preparations continue for the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled to be held in Cancun, Mexico in September, issues of internal transparency and participation in the WTO’s decision-making process have acquired renewed importance. There is growing concern that as in the past, the will of the majority of member states (most of them developing countries) will be frustrated by the resort to untransparent and undemocratic procedures and practices. The following article by Martin Khor provides a comprehensive analysis of these vexing issues which have blighted the organisation since it was established in 1995.


Problems facing developing countries in participating in discussions/negotiations in the WTO

DEVELOPING countries in general face several problems in participating in the discussions, negotiations and decisions in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) system.

Firstly, there is the problem of lack of presence or capacity.  Several of the poorer or smaller developing countries do not even have a mission in Geneva, and are thus unable to follow the day-to-day developments in the WTO.  Many other countries do have a mission, but are inadequately staffed.  According to one study, only 65 developing countries maintain WTO missions in Geneva, 26 are represented by missions or embassies in Europe or elsewhere and seven more list as their representatives people located in their own capitals.  Based on the year 2000, the study found that 24 countries had no permanent presence in Geneva. In most developing-country missions, the Ambassador and his few officials have to cover events in a range of international organisations in Geneva, of which the WTO is only one. There may be several meetings in a single day at the WTO alone.  Thus, many countries are unable to attend many of the meetings in the WTO.

Even if a staff member is able to attend a meeting, he or she may not have the time or expertise to be adequately briefed, and thus is unable to participate adequately. The small mission has also to keep in constant contact with officials in their capitals, and await instructions.  Meanwhile in the capitals, there are also usually too few officials overseeing or involved in following and making decisions on WTO and other trade issues.

Secondly, the system of negotiations and decision-making in the WTO is also often not conducive to the participation of developing countries. Although theoretically decisions are made according to the principle of one-country-one-vote, in reality there has not been a vote in the WTO nor its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Decisions are made by ‘consensus’. Often, this system works against the developing countries, as explained below. Also, the old GATT style in which a few major countries make the key decisions, and use methods to get the others to agree, still operates in important areas in the present WTO. 

Finally, whilst the WTO Secretariat is supposed to play a neutral role, in fact some of its staff members are partisan on some issues, and the Secretariat plays an important role in the untransparent decision-making process.   These features are described in greater detail below.

The combination of inadequate capacity and unfavourable procedures has placed developing countries in general (and the smaller or poorer countries in particular) at a disadvantage. This is now increasingly realised by the developing countries themselves, which have from time to time made demands that the transparency and participation in the system be improved. Although several developing countries have now strengthened their capacity to monitor events, obtain information, take part in meetings, and put forward proposals, the non-transparent procedures of decision-making still work against the developing countries at critical periods such as the Ministerial Conferences and the processes preceding and surrounding them.

Lack of transparency and participation in the WTO system

The WTO has been and remains one of the most non-transparent of international organisations. Moreover, it is also an agency in which non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other civil society organisations have little effective participation. This is despite moves by the WTO Secretariat in recent years to increase the WTO’s interaction with NGOs and the recent pronouncements by some WTO Member states about the importance of involving NGOs in the WTO.

The main reason for this lack of transparency and participation is the working methods and the system of decision-making of the WTO.

In terms of formal arrangements, decisions are made on the basis of ‘one country, one vote’ and by consensus, thus giving the WTO the appearance of an organisation in which decision-making is democratic. Decisions are taken by the General Council (comprising WTO Ambassadors of Member states based in Geneva), or representatives in subsidiary bodies (such as the TRIPS Council or the Agriculture Committee). Major decisions are also made or endorsed by the WTO Ministers meeting at a Ministerial Conference, held normally once in two years.

In practice, the GATT (the WTO’s predecessor) and WTO have been dominated by a few major industrial countries. Often, these countries negotiate and decide among themselves, and embark on an exercise of winning over (sometimes through intense pressure) a selected number  of the more important or influential developing countries, in ‘informal meetings’. Most WTO Members may not be invited to these informal meetings and may not even know that these meetings take place, or what happened there. When agreement is reached among a relatively small grouping, the decisions are rather easy to pass through the Committees or the General Council.

The meeting of a limited number of countries to work out an agreement among themselves is referred to in WTO jargon as ‘the Green Room process,’ so named after the colour of the room of the GATT Director-General in which many such meetings took place during the Uruguay Round.  In the WTO era, this Green Room process has taken place especially in the intense negotiation period prior to and at Ministerial Conferences, including the first Ministerial in Singapore and the third Ministerial in Seattle. At the Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001, a marathon Green Room meeting was also held on the extended last night of the meeting.

The system of making decisions by consensus is also odd in its implementation.    On issues where a majority of developing countries, who form the vast majority of overall WTO membership, may agree, it is said that ‘there is no consensus’ should even a few developed countries disagree with the majority, and the issue concerned is practically ‘killed’ or has no chance of being successfully dealt with. However, should the major powers (especially the US, EU, Japan) agree on a particular issue whilst a sizable number of developing countries diasgree with them and a large number remain silent, the major powers are likely to embark on a process which they call ‘building a consensus’. In reality this means a process (sometimes prolonged) of wearing down the resistance of the outspoken developing countries until only a few or just one or two remain ‘outside the consensus’.It is then relatively easy to pressurise these few remaining countries to also agree to ‘join the consensus’.

A study by the South Centre has found that: ‘The principle of one-country-one-vote may allow a theoretical equality to developing countries with their more developed counterparts, but the consensus-based method of decision-making assumes the informed presence of developing countries in all meetings. Many developing countries find that they are unable to fulfil this requirement and find themselves considerably disadvantaged in comparison to the developed countries that have large and well-prepared delegations....As a result the power asymmetries outside the institution also get translated into the decision-making processes of the WTO.  The importance of informal processes in building consensus among over 40 members offers some advantages, but also produces additional costs for developing countries.  These costs include lack of transparency in extending invitations to small group meetings, certain protocols of interaction that have led delegates to speak of the ‘English Club atmosphere’ of the WTO, excessive reliance on the chairpersons as mediator and facilitator of the negotiations in the absence of rules and so forth. Finally, procedural issues, such as the timing and venue of the Ministerials, the nature of technical assistance, and problems of both omission and commission that derive from the nature of the WTO Secretariat also affect the participation of developing countries in an adverse way.’ 

Recent developments on ‘internal transparency’ in the WTO

The delegations of several developing countries which were unhappy with the lack of transparency in the way Ministerial Conferences (and their preparatory processes) have been managed (see  accompanying ‘Case studies of the untransparent process in the WTO’ on pp. 34-7) have taken an initiative in the WTO to have these processes subjected to fairer procedural rules or guidelines.

In April 2002, a group of 15 developing countries  (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe) submitted a joint Communication  to the WTO entitled, ‘Preparatory Process in Geneva and Negotiating Procedure at the Ministerial Conferences’.  

It notes that four WTO Ministerial Conferences have been held so far and the procedures adopted in the preparatory process and the Conferences have been different, and that this uncertainty in the process makes it difficult for Members to prepare themselves.  The Communication then states that: ‘Some basic principles and procedures for this Member-driven organisation need to be agreed upon, so that both the preparatory process and the conduct of the Ministerial Conference are transparent, inclusive and predictable.’    

For the process at Ministerial Conferences, the 15 developing countries made the following proposals:

·        The agenda for the conference should not be adopted at the ceremonial opening session, but at the first formal plenary session immediately thereafter.

·        A Committee of the Whole should be established at all Ministerial Conferences.  This Committee should be the main forum for decision-making. All meetings of the Committee of the Whole should be formal.

·        The chairpersons including facilitators, who would conduct consultations and meetings on specific subjects at the Ministerial Conference, should be identified by consensus in the preparatory process in Geneva, through consultations among all Members.  Such persons should be from Members that do not have a direct interest in the subject assigned for consultations.

·        Consultations by chairperson/facilitator should be at open-ended meetings only. The chairperson/facilitator could convene meetings of proponents and opponents on the subject assigned and any other interested Member should be free to join such meetings. For this to be achieved, the schedule of each meeting shall be announced at least a few hours in advance.

·        Consultations should be transparent and inclusive and all Members should be given equal opportunity to express their views.  Chairpersons/facilitators should report to the Committee of the Whole periodically and in a substantive way.

·        All negotiating texts and draft decisions should be introduced only in open-ended meetings.

·        Late-night meetings and marathon negotiating sessions should be avoided.

·        The language of the declaration should be clear and unambiguous.  All drafts shall be considered and finalised in a drafting committee to be appointed for that purpose by all Members and membership of which should be open to all Members.

·        The Secretariat and the Director-General of the WTO as well as all the chairpersons/facilitators should assume a neutral/impartial and objective role.  They shall not express views explicitly or otherwise on the specific issues being discussed in the Ministerial Conference.  Specific rules to conduct the work of the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Ministerial Conference should be elaborated.

·        Discussions at the Ministerial Conference on the draft Ministerial Declaration should focus on issues not agreed upon in the Geneva process and the various alternate texts developed in Geneva.

·        Any new draft on specific issues should be circulated to all Members well in advance so that Members have sufficient time to consider them.  To ensure transparency in the negotiating process, any draft on specific issues should clearly indicate the Member(s) suggesting the draft.

·        The duration of Ministerial Conferences should be in accordance with the schedule agreed upon in Geneva, as many delegations make their travel and accommodation arrangements accordingly. If an extension is required, it shall be formally approved through consensus.

·        In various meetings, formal as well as informal, during the Ministerial Conference,  arrangements should be made for the Ministers to be accompanied by at least two officers.  It is the right of any Member to designate its representative and in this connection the head of delegation has the discretion to mandate his/her officials to speak on his/her behalf.

The Communication of the 15 countries also dwelt on the issue of the venue of Ministerial Conferences. It noted that this issue had been discussed during the Uruguay Round, when it was felt that the Conferences should be held in the WTO itself.  It said that apart from convenience this would also result in savings in costs and efforts as many developing countries find it prohibitively expensive to participate in the Conferences. It concluded that there could be a case for having all the future Ministerial Conferences (after this year’s Conference in Mexico)  in Geneva itself.   

Finally, the Communication recognised that Ministerial Conferences are to be held at least once every two years, and strongly recommended that Members review the evolving tendency of holding Ministerial Conferences that are primarily focused on the launching or review of negotiations.

In introducing the paper of the 15 countries during a session of the WTO on 13 May 2002, India’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, Ambassador K M Chandrasekhar, stated, in relation to the consultation process at the Doha Ministerial Conference:’Many developing countries were unhappy at being excluded from crucial meetings; in some cases the exclusion was despite specific request for being involved in some meetings.  It is necessary for the long-term health of the organisation and the multilateral trading system it seeks to promote and preserve, that we collectively address the issue of transparency and inclusiveness in the decision-making process.’  

He also identified the following issues that need focussed attention:

·        The general issue of procedures to be adopted at Ministerial Conferences and the Geneva process leading up to the Ministerial Conference - different procedures had been followed at  the previous Ministerials in Singapore, Geneva, Seattle and Doha.

·        Preparation of the draft Ministerial Declaration - the different views were not fully and clearly reflected and options for decisions were not precisely laid out.

·        There had been no discussion by the General Council or the Committee of the Whole on procedures to be followed by the Ministerial Conference.  A decision on appointment of facilitators and selection of facilitators appears to have been taken prior to the meeting and then communicated to the Committee of the Whole.  There was no inclusiveness or transparency in this process.

·        Organisation of meetings - Ministers had to sit for more than 40 hours at a stretch.                 

·        Last-minute drafts had been placed on important issues - thus, there had been no time for consultations with stakeholders and other government departments and no time for proper reflection on implications of the drafts.

Chandrasekhar also stated that the procedures adopted in various Ministerial  Conferences so far had not been uniform. He added: ‘This uncertainty makes it difficult for many members to prepare themselves for the conferences. Many developing countries are of the view that some basic principles and procedures would need to be agreed upon for this member-driven organisation, so that both the preparatory process and the conduct of the Ministerial Conference are efficient, transparent, inclusive and predictable.’ He said it was with this view to commencing a debate on this issue that the 15 countries had circulated their paper.

It remains to be seen whether the proposals of the 15 developing countries will be accepted by the WTO membership.  In the debates at the WTO, several developed countries have already stated their opposition to the set of guidelines and procedures proposed by the 15 countries, giving the view that it would hinder the ability of the Ministers at the Conferences to make decisions.

The role of the Secretariat

The WTO Secretariat, especially its leadership, has also been perceived as not playing a neutral role, often showing partiality towards the more powerful Members.  For example, the then Director-General, Mike Moore, very actively and openly campaigned for a comprehensive new round of negotiations, including new issues, in the many months of the preparatory process before the Doha Ministerial Conference, even though the membership was divided on this topic, with many developing countries opposed. Moore held meetings and seminars in many regions and countries in the developing world, canvassing for the inclusion of the new issues as subjects of multilateral rules. He also published opinion articles in newspapers, including the Financial Times, promoting that negotiations should start on investment and competition agreements in the WTO.

At the third Ministerial Conference in Seattle, the Secretariat played a major role in organising the ‘Green Room’ process of exclusive meetings. The Director-General and some Deputy Directors-General even chaired some of the ‘Green Room’ meetings. At the Doha Ministerial Conference, the Secretariat also played the crucial role of convening the marathon last-night Green Room meeting, with the Director-General playing a very active role during the meeting.  

In the day-to-day operations of the WTO in Geneva, the Secretariat also plays an important and sometimes partial role. For example, it has been playing too large a role, and an inappropriate role at that, in guiding the WTO’s dispute settlement process. According to C. Raghavan: ‘From the time a dispute is sent to a panel process until the end of the proceedings, the system now works such that the Secretariat has assumed a very important role Ñ from the choice of panellists (in view of the increasingly few cases where the disputants themselves agree on the composition of a panel, the naming of panellists by the WTO Director-General now threatens to become the general practice rather than an exception) through to the panel proceedings’.

Some panellists have privately indicated that the Secretariat provides notes and briefs to panels, including on items that negotiators had intended in the texts, without the knowledge of the parties to the dispute, including when the hearing is over; and the Secretariat also guides the drawing up of conclusions and reports.

Thus, the WTO Secretariat services the negotiations and the administering/supervisory bodies, namely the Councils for Trade in Services, Trade in Goods and TRIPS. It also has a hand in the adversarial dispute process, in what is clearly a violation of the norms of judicial or quasi-judicial systems, either Anglo-Saxon or droit administrative, and brings into question the impartiality of the multilateral trading system.

Participation of civil society in the WTO

When even developing countries’ delegations find it difficult to participate in the WTO’s decision-making system, it is no surprise that the situation is also inadequate with regard to civil society’s knowledge of and participation in developments and decision-making in the WTO.

Until a few years ago, there was hardly any public knowledge of the workings of and negotiations in the WTO. Even today, in most countries, Parliamentarians and politicians have remained in the dark about important negotiations and even agreements in the WTO, which bind their countries to changing their national policies. Often these have very serious economic, social and cultural implications that  very deeply affect the present and future shape of their economies and societies. Even bureaucrats or Ministers that are not in the lead Ministry (usually the Ministry of Trade or Commerce) are largely or wholly unaware of the developments in the WTO. The media, academics, trade unions, farmers’ groups, businessmen and NGOs are usually not consulted and have little or no knowledge of what is happening in the WTO or the position taken by their government on the many issues under discussion at the WTO.

Up to a few years ago the situation was even worse.  About the only independent source of detailed information on what was happening in the WTO was from the SUNS (South-North Development Monitor) bulletin, edited by Mr Chakravarthi Raghavan, a veteran Indian journalist based in Geneva.  SUNS published almost daily reports of negotiations in the various bodies of the GATT before, during and after the Uruguay Round that took place from 1986 to 1994. Although the negotiations took place behind closed doors, SUNS was able to piece together what happened through interviews with the WTO diplomats and through obtaining and reporting of the official and unofficial documents and negotiation processes.  The SUNS reports and analyses have become the best unofficial record of the negotiating history of the Uruguay Round and of the first years of the WTO. 

Besides SUNS, information was also made available to NGOs by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which in the late 1980s began a series of annual two- or three-day Dialogue Workshops between UNCTAD officials and NGOs (organised by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS)). UNCTAD papers, booklets and documents were also made available to NGOs and the public, and these helped to make information available to the NGOs.

Due mainly to the information base generated by SUNS and UNCTAD, a few NGOs began to organise meetings, conferences and campaigns on the Uruguay Round. As the implications of the WTO agreements became more widely known, these meetings and campaigns gathered pace and momentum from the end of the 1980s to the present.

There are various civil society groups that have become involved in GATT/WTO issues. They include: (a) groups involved in development and poverty issues, in the South as well as the North, concerned about the further marginalisation of developing countries; (b) environment groups concerned about how trade liberalisation and the GATT/WTO system affect the environment; (c) labour unions that have sought to use the WTO system to further the cause of labour standards; (d) consumer organisations and other citizen groups that are concerned that the WTO process undermines national sovereignty, and dictates economic and social policies of their countries, having negative effects such as higher drug prices and economic monopolisation by transnational corporations (TNCs); (e) radical social movements and people’s organisations, especially farmers’ organisations in both South and North.

The WTO has increasingly felt the influence of civil society not so much as a result of NGO activity within the WTO but rather because of  the highly publicised criticisms against the WTO emanating from  various public groups and social movements.

During the closing years of the Uruguay Round, Southern and Northern NGOs became increasingly aware and vocal about the adverse effects of the impending agreements. They organised meetings among themselves, including parallel NGO meetings during major official WTO meetings.  The NGOs began lobbying their governments and produced pamphlets, booklets and books about the ill effects of the GATT and the WTO.

Social movements in some countries also began actions to demonstrate their unhappiness over the draft Uruguay Round agreements. In India, farmers and citizen groups held demonstrations, especially regarding the effects of the TRIPS and Agriculture agreements, and copies of the so-called Dunkel Draft (the compilation of the draft agreements) were burnt.  In 1993, in Bangalore, a rally of 500,000 farmers pledged to fight and defy the Uruguay Round agreements. Farmers’ groups in France also held large-scale protests against the Agriculture Agreement.

Environmental and consumer groups in the West became increasingly critical (and then some became incensed) of the perceived blocking by WTO rules of the viability of some  consumer and environmental policies and measures in their countries. Public health groups have campaigned against the effects of the TRIPS Agreement on the prices of medicines, especially for treating AIDS and other serious ailments. Environment and consumer groups have decried the threats posed by the WTO to environmental and food safety standards. Labour unions have been campaigning for linking labour standards to the WTO system.  

Many citizen groups in Northern and Southern countries took up the issue of how international laws in the WTO were undermining national sovereignty by determining changes to national policies and ‘locking in’ national policies and laws for the forseeable future.  

Third World groups as well as development NGOs in the North criticised the WTO agreements as being unequal in results, bringing gains to transnational companies but causing firms and farms in developing countries to be threatened by competition from giant foreign firms due to liberalisation. 

All the groups criticised the WTO for its secrecy, the lack of transparency, the dearth of information coming out of the WTO, and the inability of NGOs to observe the WTO’s negotiations or to otherwise participate in its activities.

This wide range of groups and their criticisms have had good media coverage, and many influential newspapers have published articles criticising the WTO and its rules for destroying the environment, for causing Third World poverty, for coming under the influence of transnational companies, and for eroding the sovereignty of countries and the rights and interests of local communities.   

This caused concern to some of the major WTO Members, which feared that the credibility of the WTO system was being challenged by adverse public reaction.  

In the last few years there has also been an increasing public reaction against globalisation and the increasing power of TNCs and their behaviour, and the abandonment by the state of its role as defender of the rights or welfare of people. Globalisation is popularly perceived by many groups as causing job losses, destruction of the environment and erosion of social rights, as well as exploitation of Third World people. The WTO is now perceived as one of the main agents of globalisation, in fact replacing the IMF and World Bank as the premier global institution promoting the interests of TNCs and restricting the right and ability of governments to fulfil their national and social responsibilities.

The unpopularity of the WTO and the fact that the public is putting the blame on the WTO for the ill effects of globalisation, was highlighted by the mass protest actions taken by social movements in Geneva during the WTO’s second Ministerial Conference in May 1998, and especially at the Seattle Conference in November/December 1999. These demonstrations, expressing loathing for the WTO and its role in globalisation, had a major psychological effect on the official delegations who participated in the WTO Conferences in Geneva and Seattle. The protests spurred some governments (especially the US administration) to launch public relations excercises to win back public opinion.

The increasing influence of the NGOs came not from their participation within the WTO system but from their role outside the system:  through their impact in the media; through lobbying of governments and Parliaments;  through street protests. Their participation in the formal structures of the WTO remains extremely limited.

In response to the upsurge of NGO interest and activities, the WTO has responded by increasing its interaction with civil society groups. In recent years there have been some initiatives on the part of the Secretariat and the Members, which include employing a few staff to liaise with NGOs, the provision of more documents to the public, the holding of NGO-government dialogue seminars, briefing sessions for NGOs based in Geneva, the circulation of a bulletin of information to NGOs, and the provision of facilities for NGOs (whose accreditation to the WTO Conference is approved) to participate at the WTO Ministerial Conferences (including attendance at the largely ceremonial opening and closing sessions).

As a result, there has been more interaction between the civil society organisations and the WTO Secretariat as well as WTO Members.  However, this interaction is still very limited.  NGOs are not allowed to observe the proceedings of the WTO meetings in Geneva. Structured interaction between NGOs and the delegations is confined to the seminars or symposia organised by the Secretariat on selected topics a few times a year.  There is no accreditation of NGOs to the WTO as an organisation (accreditation is given only to participate in the Ministerial Conferences, one conference at a time). This contrasts with the accreditation of NGOs to the UN and its various bodies and agencies, and the increasing participation of NGOs in the UN system, where the accredited NGOs have access to several meetings and also access to the delegates.                             

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

BOX ARTICLE 1

‘They produced a draft like a magician producing a rabbit out of his hat’

THE non-transparent and undemocratic processes and methods used in Doha have led to expressions of frustration and exasperation by some developing countries as well as NGOs which witnessed the events and the proceedings. As India’s Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Murasoli Maran, himself a major player at Doha, remarked about his experience at the Conference: 

‘Apart from not seriously reflecting the views of the developing members, the draft Declaration and the manner in which it was transmitted from Geneva to the Ministerial left a lot to be desired. Even at Doha, when the process reached nowhere on 13 November, the scene shifted to the so-called “Green Room”, where only a handful of WTO members were requested to participate.  The remaining members virtually had no say.  Even during discussions on the entire night of 13-14 November (the non-stop session lasting for 38 hours), texts were appearing by the hour for discussions without giving sufficient time to get them examined by the respective delegations.  Who prepared the avalanche of Draft after Draft? Why? We do not know.  In the eleventh hour, probably after 37 hours 45 minutes, they produced a Draft - like a magician producing a rabbit out of his hat -  and said that it was the Final Draft.  The tactics seemed to be to produce a draft at the wee hours and force others to accept that or come nearer to that. Has it happened in any other international Conference?  Definitely not.  Therefore with pain and anguish I would say that any system which in the last minute forces many developing countries to accept texts in areas of crucial importance to them cannot be a fair system. I would strongly suggest that the WTO Membership should have serious introspection about the fairness of the preparatory process for Ministerial Conferences. At a minimum, there should be a stipulation that during Ministerial Conferences, no new text on any issue will be put for adoption without the delegations getting sufficient time to study the text and to consult their polity. The last minute Draft, which often comes like a bolt from the blue, will not contribute to the strength of the multilateral trading system, since the decisions are likely to affect the lives of billions of people all over the world.’                          

BOX ARTICLE 2

Proposals for improving transparency and participation

THE non-transparent and non-participatory systems of decision-making among WTO Members is at the heart of the undemocratic nature of the WTO system. This reality is in stark contrast to the image of equal participation by all Members through ‘consensus’ that the WTO tries to project.

The following are some proposals for improving transparency and participation in the WTO system.

1.      The processes of consultations, discussion, negotiations and decision-making in the WTO have to be made truly transparent, open, participatory and democratic.

To operationalise this principle, the following measures could be taken:

·        The discussions and negotiations that are being planned and are taking place at the WTO must be made known, and all Members must be allowed to be present and participate.

·        The practice of small informal groups making decisions on behalf of all Members should cease. The ‘rationale’ usually put forward (for example, by the Director-General at the Singapore Ministerial) that for the ‘sake of efficiency’ only a few countries can be invited to negotiate cannot be accepted. The decisions at the WTO are too important to be ‘rushed through’. They should instead arise out of well-considered discussions where every Member (big or small, weak or strong) has opportunities to effectively  express its opinions. 

·        To facilitate fair representation of the various positions held by all Members, a system and procedure of negotiations combining full participation by all Members with the efficiency of a representational mechanism could be considered. An interesting model for the WTO to look at is the experience of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.  In this model, countries are categorised according to the positions or interests that they have. Each of the interest-based categories of countries can select representatives or spokespersons.  The spokespersons of the various groupings could then sit within a roundtable for discussions and negotiations. The number of spokespersons allowed for each grouping may differ, depending on the size of the grouping. The chairperson will solicit the views of all the groupings around the table. Delegates from all countries should be allowed to be present, and the seating arrangement could be such that countries are seated according to their grouping. The members can consult with their grouping’s representative or representatives during the negotiations. Adequate time should also be allowed for members of each grouping to consult among themselves, and for the representatives to seek the opinion of their members. In this manner, whilst the negotiations are conducted by the representatives of the groupings, every member is allowed to be present. Besides this ‘Biosafety Protocol model’, the trade expert Bhagirath Lal Das has also proposed a representational system in which countries with common interest and common positions can form a representative negotiating group made up of a few negotiators selected by and who would negotiate on behalf of the set of countries. The selected negotiator or negotiators would get the brief from the group and will come back constantly to the group to consult and if necessary to get a fresh brief. Das proposes that the groups be formed according to three broad clusters, i.e. the developed countries, developing countries and countries in transition. Given the present composition of WTO membership, there could be three developed-country representatives, 12 from developing countries and one from the transition economies.  The developed countries may divide themselves into three groups, each having one negotiator;  the developing countries may divide themselves into a number of groups, depending on their commonality of interest, each being represented by one or more negotiators. A country can also shift its group, if the new group accepts it.

·        To take into account the lack of human and financial resources of developing countries, there should not be more than one or at most two meetings taking place at the same time.

·        The positions or views of all countries should be adequately and fairly represented and reflected in the text of discussion or negotiation. The various views should then be placed together in a document, which should form the basis for negotiations. The practice prior to and at Doha, where the different views were not reflected, should not be repeated.

·        The authority or mandate of the chairperson of the General Council, the Trade Negotiations Committee, and the various councils and committees, as well as negotiating groups, should be clearly spelt out. Their authority should be derived from the Members, who have the right to make decisions on any texts prepared. The practice prior to Doha in which the General Council chairperson and the Director-General transmitted the draft Declaration to the Ministerial Conference on their own responsibility should not be repeated.  

·        Clear rules of procedure for Ministerial Conferences should be spelt out.  The practice at Doha, where the Chairperson of the Conference selected six ‘friends of the Chair’ to conduct negotiations, should not be legitimised or repeated. Roles given to delegates and procedures for conducting negotiations, including in informal meetings, should be decided upon by the entire membership in a transparent, open and democratic manner.

2.      The WTO Secretariat should be impartial and be seen to be impartial.

The WTO Secretariat has in the past shown partiality towards the major developed countries. In future, it should be impartial and also seen to be impartial.  In particular members of the Secretariat, especially the Director-General, the Deputy Directors-General and the Directors of the Divisions, should not be seen to be taking sides with the more powerful countries at the expense of the interests of developing countries.  The system should reflect the fact that the majority of Members are now developing countries, which have as great (or greater) a stake in a fair and balanced multilateral system as do developed countries, and therefore provide developing countries with adequate means as well as procedures to enable them to voice their interests and exercise their rights. There should also be fairer representation of citizens of developing countries in the Secretariat, especially in senior positions.

3.          There should be much greater transparency of the WTO (including proposals made there and its decisions) in relation to civil society.  

·        Any proposals for changes to the rules, new agreements or new commitments on countries should be made known in their draft form to the public at least six months before decisions are taken, so that in each country civil society (including groups representing labour, business, consumers, the environment, health and all other interests) will have a full opportunity to study them and influence their Parliaments and governments on the stand they should take.

·        Parliaments and Parliamentarians should be kept constantly informed of proposals and developments at the WTO, and they should have the right to make policy choices regarding proposals arising in the WTO that have an effect on national policies and practices.

·        Civil society should be given genuine opportunities to know what the issues being discussed are and the status of the discussions in the various committees and on the various issues. Civil society groups and institutions must be given genuine opportunities to express their views and to influence the outcome of policies and decisions. The issues and options being discussed at the WTO and its organs must be presented to the public in all WTO Member countries and subjected to public debate and scrutiny. The views of civil society organisations (including labour unions, farmers’ organisations, groups dealing with consumer, environmental, health and social issues, professional organisations, the business community including small businesses, and the media) should be actively sought by the Member states. - Martin Khor         

 


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