TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct18/12)
22 October 2018
Third World Network

DG did not read report issued by WTO-IMF-WB at Bali last week!
Published in SUNS #8776 dated 18 October 2018

Geneva, 17 Oct (D. Ravi Kanth) - The WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said on Tuesday that he has not had the opportunity to read the report on "Reinvigorating Trade and Inclusive Growth" prepared by his secretariat along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which calls for doing away with the consensus principle to launch plurilateral negotiations, several trade envoys told SUNS.

At an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting on Tuesday (16 October), several developing countries - India, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, and Ecuador among others - sharply criticized the WTO Secretariat for advocating reforms without prior approval from members. (See SUNS #8773 dated 15 October 2018).

India said it is "deeply concerned at the WTO Secretariat becoming a party to the recent report by international organisations on WTO reforms," according to trade envoys present at the meeting.

According to a participant who asked not to be quoted, India's trade envoy J S Deepak said while "the issue of institutional reform of the WTO is important for some members," it is "best resolved by the Membership without the Secretariat offering its suggestions."

Ambassador Deepak said, "in absence of any explicit request from the Membership by consensus, we expect the Secretariat to act with restraint in this matter so that the Member-driven character of the WTO is preserved."

On behalf of the African Group, South Africa's trade envoy Ambassador Xavier Carim said "we did not consider the recently released IGO (inter-governmental organizations) Report by the WTO Secretariat, World Bank and IMF."

"Suffice it to say that the Secretariat's stature is secured when it maintains its international character and stands apart from the partisan positions of Members," said Ambassador Carim, according to a participant present at the meeting.

China said while it agrees with the DG's call for reforms to fix specific problems for making the system work better, members should be cautious "not to undermine the core values and basic principles of the WTO such as non-discrimination, diminish the development right of developing countries, or weaken the spirit of consensus."

"Any kind of reform," according to China, "should be a mutual, comprehensive and gradual process, as it is a common cause of 164 members. No one can be left out. No one can be singled out either. Particularly, developing countries' interests should be strongly voiced and fully reflected in this process."

Several developed countries - the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and Norway among others - welcomed the reform proposals for modernizing the WTO, including the WTO, IMF, and World Bank report on "Reinvigorating Trade and Inclusive Growth."

In his concluding remarks on the criticism levelled against the WTO-WB-IMF report, the DG said his secretariat participated in drafting the report on "Reinvigorating Trade and Inclusive Growth" after receiving requests from t he World Bank and the IMF, according to several trade envoys present at the meeting.

The DG said he is not sure which of his division in the Secretariat participated in drafting the report. Azevedo said he does not remember all the contents of the report as he had read it sometime ago.

The DG said he will now look into the report in the face of criticisms made by members, suggesting that there was no bias, according to several envoys pre sent at the meeting.

The DG along with the chiefs of the WB and the IMF had publicly issued the report at the IMF meeting in Bali last week, said a South American trade envoy, arguing that the DG is pretending that he doesn't know the contents of the report.

"What the DG said in his concluding remarks is a classic case of Azevedo who tends to put an innocent face on his continued violations of multilateral rules time and time again," said another trade envoy, preferring anonymity.

[If the DG's explanation on the joint report is to be believed, it would appear to mean a case of self-confessed professional incompetence, and inability to run a secretariat. - SUNS]