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Decision on venue of next WTO ministerial put off

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 15 Dec 2000 -- The General Council of the WTO put off, until the new year, and more extensive consultations as requested by Chairman Kare Bryn of Norway on the venue for the next Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

Qatar has made a formal offer to host, and has now indicated it could provide the necessary hotel rooms for the delegations and visitors.

However, more recently, after a visit to Santiago by the WTO Director-General (and some behind the scene suggestions from some other industrial countries), Chile has said it was considering making an offer. However, it has not been able to decide so far.

At the General Council, Chile indicated it was not yet in a position to make a formal offer, but that it would not stand in the way of a decision.

While the chair sought more time, and several spoke saying they would not object, Pakistan challenged the decision to postpone a decision, pointing out that Qatar was the only country offering to host and saw no reason to postpone a decision.

Holding the Conference outside of Geneva, it is said, would cost the host country (for the extra expenditure of the secretariat) about 10 to 15 million dollars.

Some rough ball-park figures of the costs to all developing countries (travel, hotel costs etc) on an average of ten bodies (including a minister and senior official) is estimated at 100 to 150 million dollars.

And since, consensus is presumed unless one is present and says no, at all WTO meetings including Ministerial Conferences (which unlike UN or IMF/Fund Bank affairs) are not talkathons, but decision-making), no member can afford to stay away. And judged by the way the majors and the secretariat organise the meetings (to bring maximum pressure on developing countries and force them to yield to the industrial world), a minimum of 8 or 10 negotiators would be needed for each country.

It speaks volumes perhaps that a trade organization which places emphasis on ‘efficiency’ for a host of issues from ‘decision-making’ to efficiency of free trade in ‘allocation of resources’ that its method of organization of work, and Ministerial meetings (to be held outside like this) involves so much of collective expenditures for developing countries alone, which six years after the WTO have nothing to show as benefits for themselves.

And the United States and major powers who raise cost issues for UN conferences and meets (including a conference on financing for development) promotes holding WTO meetings outside of Geneva, and having it hosted in countries where it could have more influence on the outcome.-SUNS4806

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

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