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Consultations on Harbinson drafts from next week

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 28 Sep 2001 -- The consultations on the draft ministerialdeclaration  and on implementation are expected to begin next week at the WTO, but with developing countries increasingly taking a negative view of the drafts as a basis for further talks.

Meanwhile, UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Board is meeting next week, meetings scheduled long ago,  with Tanzania’s ambassador to chair the Board and key African ambassadors (one or two staff) likely to get involved in it, to the detriment of their own and their country interests at the WTO.

The more they read the two draft texts - one on the ministerial declaration for launch of a new round (without use of that appellation) at the Doha Ministerial meeting, and the other on implementation -  the more developing countries, individually and in various regional, sub-regional and  interest group coalitions find them empty of content, and something that could not be justified by them before their parliaments, governments and businessmen for having agreed to a new round without any of their own issues being addressed.

As one trade diplomat remarked, “this a declaration for a new round, without calling it a round, and one with a creeping agenda for a comprehensive round.” While key developing countries are mulling over how to deal with the situation, and awaiting instructions from capitals, the WTO leadership and the EU (as also the US) are now engaged in a massive manipulative operation.

After the attempts to get the Abuja African Trade Ministers to adopt a declaration and programme to advance the WTO/EC-US views and agendas, the Nigerian trade minister who chaired that meeting was persuaded to come to Geneva and met with the representatives of the Quad (US, EC, Japan and Canada) and Mike Moore to inform them of the outcome of the Abuja meeting.

According to some African sources (while the actual final versions of the Ministerial Declaration and the African negotiating objectives were yet to be available even to those who were at Abuja), the Nigerian minister reportedly gave an oral view (that did not reflect the details in effect opposition by Africa to the new issues or the industrial tariff negotiations). And when the Quad asked the Minister what they could to help, he reportedly them ‘technical assistance’.

Inside Nigeria, there is a debate going on within the government and trade people, raising serious questions being raised about the haste in which the previous military government, to gain international legitimacy, had signed on to the Marrakesh agreement and which the successor civilians are finding is detrimental to their development.

Next week, the President of Senega is due to visit Geneva, and the WTO D.G. apparently hopes to persuade him to contact other heads of state in Africa to throw their support behind the new draft. And Mr. Pascal Lamy has said that he is going to Nairobi to attend the meetings of the ACP countries, and canvass their support for the round.

There are thus some questions about the legitimacy of the process and what could happen at Doha that in some of the major developing countries, whose help and assistance in many ways is being sought by the US in the “war against terrorism”, would create major political and social problems, and (in classical Chinese post-war terminology) raise questions about ‘unequal treaties.’

There are also some indications that even the limited ‘sweeteners’ in the implementation package may not in fact materialiseTurkey in consultations has made clear its opposition to any increase in textile quotas and imports of its competitors from developing countries. And on the promise to negotiate anti-dumping and subsidy rules in a new round, Mexico (one of the largest users) is likely to say no taking both the EC and the US off-the-hook.

The two texts, the one on a ministerial declaration drawn up by Mr. Stuart Harbinson on his personal responsibility and the other by Harbinson and WTO Director General Mike Moore, were handed out Wednesday night to delegations.

On Thursday and Friday, several developing country delegations were busy Thursday trying to assimilate and brief their capitals and await instructions, and absorb some very confusing signals and reports about the Doha meeting and its being held with uncertainty about the US responses to the attacks on the World Trade Centre towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

The government of Qatar last week invited  some journalists for a week’s visit to show them the facilities for the WTO meeting, and the arrangements they were making. The journalists on their return have been praising the facilities (unlike in Seattle) that would be provided, but in conditions where ministers and their immediate deputies would be staying in the Sheraton Hotel (on the shores of the sea) where the meetings would take place, with their delegations housed elsewhere, and the media and the few non-governmental organizations shunted off to villas in compounds and will have  difficulties in meeting delegations.

Some of the journalists also came back and have reported about the Doha meeting taking place under the shadow of US-UK military beefing up in the Gulf area, including the sending of tanks etc to provide security, and US and British air power mobilisation in the region.

After Seattle, the WTO head and the secretariat, and the majors pushing their agendas, in a short-sighted way might even feel happy with a conference under such circumstances where the ‘information’ can be managed, with the help of some of the US and EC pro-WTO medias.

But this will not last beyond Doha - in most countries of the developing world there is now a much greater awareness and concern over the WTO and its activities - among parliaments, businessmen and the public.

The Qatar minister who would chair the Doha meeting would appear to have been at pains to impress on the invited journalists that he would chair the 4th ministerial, without taking sides as had happened at Seattle, where the USTR Mrs. Charlene Barshefsky found it difficult to distinguish between her role as the leader of the US delegation and her role as the Chair of the Conference.

And in the chaos there, partly organised or connived at by the hosts themselves, the Director-General of the WTO, Mr. Mike Moore and his officials, distinghuished themselves by their basic inability to grasp the minimum of rules and procedures for a ministerial meeting, and with a text full of alternatives that made even the most competent minister or official confused and upset.

Developing countries and their governments have all been anxious to avoid a repetition of Seattle and another WTO ministerial ending in shambles. Perhaps there has been considerable sympathy with the Qatar governnment which is trying to avoid repeating the Seattle mistakes, by restricting maximum attendees, and the media and public interest NGOs (and their access to delegations).

However, as they looked at the Harbinson text, and its para eight, about “collective responsibility to ensure internal transparency and the effective participation of all Members”, delegates are struck by the fact that after two years of promises, there is not even mention of the most crucial aspect - decision-making.

But as they read through the texts, absorbed its contents and non-contents, and the way issues of interest and importance to developing countries have been dealt with, some trade diplomats and their advisors are beginning to worry about an outcome worse than a failed Seattle - a ‘successful’ Doha ministerial, one involving the present Harbinson- and the Harbinson-Moore texts (with some semantic changes) being  taken to Doha (in a repeat worse than at Singapore) and sought to be rushed through or forced into a consensus.

Developing countries and their governments have all been anxious to avoid a repetition of Seattle and another WTO ministerial ending in shambles - not as a result of the street protests, but in fact due to the way the decisions and non-decisions of a few were sought to be forced down on the majority who had not been consulted and had not participated in the decision-making.

The text, as one trade ambassador, speaking non-attributively, commented is so full of defects that he could not allow its use as a basis for further refining’either we would all end with alternative formulations for almost every para or forced to reject it’, and neither prospect is appealing.

Meanwhile, the Cairns group countries appear to have had a meeting with the United States Thursday and expressed their “shock” at reading such an imbalanced  document. The information provided by some of these delegations on a non-attributive basis, suggest that the Cairns Group told the US (which is trying to persuade the Cairns group not to push for any Agriculture agenda beyond Article 20 of the AoA) that the US could live with an imprecise text on agriculture (given in addition that the US itself is increasing its subsidy and support), but they could not.

With such a text that had nothing on agriculture talks, for example, “we have lost interest in a new round. There has to be an agenda. We cannot justify before our parliaments, governments and businessmen our acceptance of a declaration to launch a new round that has not covered our essential interests.” There was nothing in the package of negotiations for the agriculture exporting countries.

Several African negotiators noted that the declaration as drafted addressed and focussed on all the issues and agendas raised by the industrial world, with options between negotiations and further study for two years only on two issues (investment and competition).

Developing countries had been told about a ‘development round’ and advantages of having several issues for a ‘trade-off’, but in fact there is nothing to trade-off, one representative noted.

None of the concerns of countries expressed in the many regional and sub-regional meetings, or at the informal Council sessions, have been taken into account. Even making strong statements at the further informal consultations, they were afraid, would not avail - only a formal tabling of amendments and new formulations for each of the paragraphs would force genuine consultations.

However, the majors do not seem to be too concerned, strongly believing that the ‘new climate’ of support to the US could be used to launch a new round. Mr. Pascal Lamy, the EC Trade Commissioner has announced that he would going to an ACP meeting in Kenya, to canvass and gain support of the ministers.

The wording of the declaration, one experienced trade diplomat noted, has been carefully crafted, but with many of the formulations on subjects of interest to the developing world presented in such a way that only two conclusions are possible one that Harbinson and the WTO secretariat that have been engaged in the drafting and issuance of the documents, have not grasped any of the issues like debt and finance or technology transfer etc that developing countries have been raising, and hence some sloppy formulations.

However such an explanation is not easy to swallow. And this raises the question about the bona fides and intentions behind the formulations.

There is nothing in the declaration drafts, beyond mentioning the headings, on the various mandated negotiations and review exercises, but loaded formulations on issues that the developed countries, particularly the US and EU have been raising over the last 2-3 years.

Even the investment and competition issues, where an alternative of continuing the study is given, it is such that the 5th ministerial will have a report on it and take decisions (that could include launching negotiations or altering the mandates, as happened in Geneva in 1989 at the time of the mid-term review meeting on the Uruguay Round).

On the question of trade, debt and finance (an issue that also had figured in the 1994 Marrakesh ‘laundry list’ of items raised by various ministers and left to be handled by the GATT, and then the WTO, it is a curious formulation “31. We agree to an examination, under the auspices of the General Council, of the relationship between  trade, debt and finance, and of any possible recommendations on steps that might be taken within the mandate and competence of the WTO to enhance the capacity of the multilateral trading system to contribute to a durable solution to the problems of external indebtedness of developing and least-developed countries, and to strengthen the coherence of international trade, financial and monetary policies, with a view to safeguarding the multilateral trading system from the effects of financial and monetary instability.”

Similarly, on the issue of Trade and Transfer of Technology, the Harbinson draft says “32. We agree to an examination, under the auspices of the General Council, of the relationship between trade and transfer of technology, and of any possible recommendations on steps that might be taken within the mandate of the WTO to increase flows of technology to developing countries.”

Very detailed mandate of sorts for the General Council for an “examination”? Well, the outcome on these two is to be, to cite the (identically worded) operative parts of the two paragraphs”We instruct the General Council to consider the most appropriate institutional arrangements for handling this examination and to report on progress to the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference.”

The operative part of the two formulations for ‘focussed study’ on investment and competition policy is worded as “A report on this work shall be presented to the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference.”

And para 36 of the declaration (which, with 37 and 38, are in fact mandates for launch of a new round of negotiations in each area, to be run by a separate Trade Negotiations Committee, and for conduct of the negotiations as a single undertaking) provides for negotiations to be concluded at a date not yet agreed, and adds”The Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference will take stock of progress in the negotiations, provide any necessary political guidance, and take any decisions as necessary...” which thus would include launch of negotiations.

When these mandates are carefully read, said a trade diplomat, and compared with those on the other issues of great importance for ‘development’ of developing countries, and when it is realised that it has been drawn up by the General Council chair well acquainted with English language and its usages,  it is not easy to give the benefit of doubt that the proposed operative parts of the study mandates on trade, debt and finance and transfer of technology, are sloppy drafting or due to lack of comprehension.

Serious questions about the intentions and bona fides of the WTO leadership have to be posited as alternative explanations.

Another diplomat from a small country, pointed to the formulation about ‘market access for non-agricultural products’ which talks of negotiations to take into account special needs and interests of developing and least-developed country participants and says “... including through less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments.”

The exchange of tariff concessions under GATT 1994 (over the last five decades) have been on the principle of reciprocity, but with special and differential treatment to developing countries under which they are not required to provide reciprocity, but make concessions according to their trade and development needs.

Now there is the concept of “less than full reciprocity” -  raising some more questions on what it means - 50%, 99% or any figure could be pushed at the end, and as part of a single undertaking?

A successful 4th Ministerial on this basis would be worse than a failed Seattle – the WTO and the new round will become a catalyst to coalesce opposition in each country across issues - any government’s nightmare, the 21st century version of the early part of the 20th. – SUNS4977

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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