Framework for modalities or ‘platform’ for future careers?

Geneva, 19 July (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - The draft framework text, Job(04)/96, issued on 16 July by General Council chair Shotaro Oshima and WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, aimed at restarting the stalled WTO negotiations, is a “Doha-minus” document, that has probably made an overall package to relaunch and conclude the negotiations launched at Doha more difficult.

Studying the paper over the weekend, and while awaiting instructions from capitals, several trade diplomats of developing countries (speaking non-attributively) felt that the paper would need so many changes and re-drafting to put a balance back into the package, that it may not be easy to negotiate all these in just about 10 days.

The entire paper, and its approaches, are viewed by developing country delegations and by civil society groups as imbalanced and lacking equity, and heavily weighted in process and substance in favour of the developed countries, in particular the US and EC.

It lacks any specificity in agriculture, but is specific in Non-Agricultural Market Access, is merely rhetorical on Special and Differential Treatment, downgrades even more the priority issue of Doha, ‘implementation issues’, and subsumes it with the S&D issue, clothing both in rhetoric but without any operational content.

In agriculture, it accommodates some of the key concerns of the US and EC and other developed countries (in market access, and on ‘sensitive products’), while mentioning the concerns of the developing countries but not in the same way.

On domestic support, the text is so framed that it would legitimise the various current illegal subsidies, and in effect create a new ceiling (for the US in a new blue box), and then provide for negotiating some reductions in these, but not elimination.

On export subsidy and export credits, it makes some advance, and envisages the phasing out (when and how in the future is not clear), but any benefit this may give to the competitive agricultural exporters is more than offset by the way the domestic support and market access pillars are dealt with.

On Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), though presenting it as ‘a platform’ and not ‘a basis’, the framework is specific and uses the Derbez text, which has been in fact rejected by the developing countries.

It launches negotiations on Trade Facilitation on the basis of modalities set out in an annex, even though there is no agreement, leave aside explicit consensus on the modalities.

En plus, the other three Singapore issues, are kept on the WTO agenda, to be pursued even during the current negotiations, as a study process, and likely to be brought up later after a Doha minus accord is concluded.

Overall, there is no value-added or benefit to developing countries, as a group or individually, in adopting a Doha-minus framework package, and perhaps some harm, some trade experts suggest.

At Doha, and later at the UN General Assembly in New York, the EC had sought to put a label on the Doha Work Programme, by having it titled as the Doha Development Round..

This was not acceptable to the developing countries, and was not accepted..

However, the former WTO head, Mike Moore, and the current DG, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, as well as the EC and others have been using the term ‘Doha Development Agenda’ as a kind of public relations and marketing tool, but have not cut much ice.

And since the Doha Declaration and the meeting in 2001, the ‘development deficit’ in the Doha Work Programme and its implementation have been repeatedly brought to the fore, by the developing countries, and even more by civil society and many academic studies.

Instead of making up this deficit, and paying attention to the ‘development’ issues, there is a renewed attempt at marketing - by calling it in the draft decision as ‘Doha Development Agenda’. There was little of ‘development’ in the original agenda, and none at all in the Oshima-Supachai package for a ‘Doha minus’.

The WTO has set itself an end-July deadline for a framework package to relaunch the negotiations, and an attempt to rush through the Oshima-Supachai package.

This is based on some dubious assumptions related to the political calendars of the US elections and the change of guard at Brussels - and that if the package is not agreed now and the talks relaunched, it would be a long time before negotiations can be resumed and concluded.

In the cover-note to the framework paper, and in justifying the use of the Derbez NAMA text, which has been opposed by developing countries and latest by the G90 Ministers, Oshima and Supachai have cited the chairman of the NAMA negotiating group as saying that this was the only practicable option given the wide divergences among members, but that it should be treated not as an agreed text but as “a platform for the further negotiations that will be necessary.”

Perhaps, the entire Oshima-Supachai paper, and not merely Annex B on NAMA, could be seen and understood as a ‘platform’.

The Oxford English Dictionary has several meanings for the noun ‘platform’, most related to the physical nature (side-walk, train or bus-conductor’s platform, railway platform at stations etc). But the figurative, applicable, meaning in the usage here is “.... raised flooring in hall or open air from which speaker addresses audience; the platform (fig.) oratory suitable for this; (fig.) political basis of party etc. declared policy of political party.”

No one now believes that the negotiations on the Doha work programme can be back on track and completed by end of 2004 (as envisaged in that ministerial declaration), or even August 2005. The framework perhaps is thus a ‘platform’ for future careers of three personalities.

EC Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy is already a lame-duck, and will be out of office soon, certainly before November, by when the new EU Commission President gets confirmed by the EU Parliament, and presents his commissioners before Parliament. Even if Bush wins a second term in the White House, judged by his views about his USTR Robert Zoellick (as ‘combative’) expressed reportedly at the US-EC summit in Ireland, there will be a new USTR.

And the term of the WTO head, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi (and with it those of some of his aides) will end on 31 August 2005 and cannot be renewed (as part of the compromise under which he was elected in a split term with Mike Moore).

Already, the candidature of former Uruguay ambassador and (General Council chair in 2003), Mr. Perez del Castillo (who during his tenure here, firmly believed that what is good for the US and EC is good for the rest of the world) has been presented in capitals to WTO member-governments. The Canadian envoy Sergio Marchi is also said to be in the process or likely soon to throw his hat into the ring. And another dark candidate being mentioned is the Mauritius Trade Minister, Mr. Cuttaree.

And the US is said to think that a developing country person as head of WTO would suit its interests better, as such a person would be more amenable to US influence.

Thus, the July framework paper, if adopted, could at best be added on to the curriculum vitae of these personalities - as they do a ‘revolving door’ exercise into some other positions, in the private or public sectors.

The ‘minus’ in the Doha declaration and mandates, is for the benefit of the US and EC, who have been constantly striving, over the last two years and more, to rewrite that mandate.

This ‘minus’ has been achieved at the expense of developing countries, trade diplomats said over the week-end.

The way the Oshima-Supachai paper has been drawn up and issued also shows that the powers-that-be at the WTO have learnt no lessons from Seattle and Cancun, and are persisting in the GATT/WTO culture of drawing up documents, ignoring the strong views of a large part of the membership, and use of manipulative decision-making process that was responsible for the failures of=20the Seattle and Cancun Ministerial Conferences.

At a time when the WTO’s remit and its invasion of domestic sovereign decision-making has been attracting considerable opposition in many developed and developing countries, and there are calls in parliaments and in civil society against allowing further inroads by the WTO, the multi-lateral organization risks facing a severe backlash and repudiation by such tactics.

The WTO members perhaps would do well to read what the Butler Commission in the UK, even while white-washing and absolving the individuals (ministers and intelligence officials) responsible for reliance on faulty intelligence in launching the war in Iraq, has said in a section relating to the machinery of government and decision-making.

In some under-stated language, the Commission has come down against what a Guardian newspaper comment has called ‘the chino-pant, chat method’ of informal government decision-making processes of government, and said: “...we are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of government’s procedures, which we saw in the context of policy-making towards Iraq, risks reducing the scope of informed collective political judgement...” (Para 611 of the report)

This is even more applicable to the WTO and its processes for decision-making - since the decisions they make, and acquiesced in by developing country governments, now affect and worsen the conditions of millions of poor in these countries, and seals their fates against development.

The Oshima-Supachai text on the long-pending development concerns of developing countries - Implementation issues and operationalising the Special and Differential Treatment provisions in current agreements have been given short shrift - by some rhetorical language up front in the ‘draft decision’ by the General Council, but without any operational content, guideline or mandate to get these long-stalled issues and concerns addressed with priority and agreements reached.

These issues were given priority at Doha but several deadlines were missed, and there is nothing in the Oshima-Supachai paper beyond the rhetorical exhortation to the various bodies dealing with them, and the Special Sessions of the Committee on Trade and Development (where S&D issues being negotiated) to expeditiously complete the review of all outstanding agreement-specific proposals and report to the General Council with recommendations for clear decision.

On the Implementation issues, the TNC (headed by Supachai), the negotiating bodies and WTO bodies, where these issues are bottled up, are again asked to “redouble their efforts” to find appropriate solutions as a priority. But given that nothing happenned on past exhortations, repetition is value-less.

The Implementation issues came up at the time of the Geneva Ministerial meeting, and subsequently on the agenda of the Seattle Conference. At Doha, the developing countries agreed to a compromise and place those issues that may need change of the rules into the negotiating agenda, and to be treated as a single undertaking.

But all this is now being sought to be given a go-by.

The Implementation issue, identified as a priority negotiating issue in the Doha Declaration, and to be dealt with by Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and as part of a single undertaking, and specific deadlines set, is in fact now being pushed into the General Council - where it will be more easily buried.

As developing country diplomats point out in private, the secretariat and its head have never believed in or accepted these issues - trotting out some dubious economic theories against them. One of the first things, Dr. Supachai did, when he assumed office in September 2002, was to go before an UNCTAD forum to question these concepts, but was in fact challenged by developing country diplomats and was unable to respond to them.

Supachai also scoffed at the implementation issues, asking whether there would be another set of ‘implementation issues’ at the end of the Doha negotiations.

No wonder there has been no focus or effort at the WTO, and in the framework to deal with them, even from the secretariat side.

[And Groser, and those in the secretariat playing with words and English language, are setting the scope for more havoc, on basis of negotiating history, by future panels and the Appellate Body, the WTO’s Star Chamber, by converting ‘a single undertaking’ of the Doha Declaration into ‘The Single Undertaking’ - making it a specific legal concept - that was never there or intended at Punta de Este, during the tortous Uruguay Round negotiations, or in the Marrakesh treaty, but imported as a legal concept by the negative consensus approach for adopting rulings in the DSU processes to hit developing countries, in the Indonesia car dispute and other rulings.]

There is some rhetorical language and promise used on the problems of the African cotton producers and their Cotton initiative (for a three-year phase out and compensation), and how it is to be addressed in the Agricultural negotiations.

But in fact, the cotton subsidy issue that is politically very embarrassing for the US, is to be part and parcel of the agriculture negotiations. And the US cotton subsidy payments will be subsumed into its new blue-box (the second tiret of paragraph 13 of Annex A) and then reduced, but not eliminated, over time.

In Agriculture and Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), as well as on the Singapore issues, the Oshima-Supachai paper advances the cause and interests of developed countries, in particular that of the US and EC - while the positions of developing countries are prejudiced by the prejudgements and non-formulation of alternatives to reflect their views.

The Oshima-Supachai text is to come up before an informal General Council session Monday evening, when the text and its annexes are set to be introduced and explained. A night meeting of the General Council has been set from eight to midnight Geneva time, presumably to hear any comments.

However, as of lunch-time Monday, most developing countries were unclear about the informal General Council meeting or the likely process.

A number of them also see a major effort in the Oshima-Supachai text, and in the activities of the EC, to divide the developing countries, and play one against the other.

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