by Martin Khor (4 Dec 1999)

Seattle, 4 Dec 99 -- 3 Dec was a very dramatic day. It was the last day of the WTO Conference.

Until afternoon it seemed there would be a Declaration and that developing countries would be stampeded into agreeing to it, with a new Round of new issues etc.

Almost all Third World delegations were very upset by their marginalisation, by not being invited in the small group meetings where the real negotiations take place.

Third World Network issued a statement and held a press conference in the Media Room at about 5 pm. The statement expressed outrage at the way developing countries were being treated, and called for the Seattle talks to be adjourned and that the General Council in Geneva be authorised to do follow up work instead.

Click here for the Statement.

By about 6pm, it became clear that the talks would fail and there would not be a Declaration nor a new round. It was thought that a 2 or 4 page procedural statement would be issued instead.

However, even that was not forthcoming. At a closing plenary session, the USTR Charlene Barshevsky announced the talks had been suspended and that the Director General of the WTO would be responsible for further consultations later on.

Both she and Pascal lamy (EC Trade Commissioner) said that the breakdown was largely caused by the fact that the old system of WTO's decision-making (in small groups etc) was no longer adequate to satisfy the demands of transparency of the large numbers of members from developing countries. They thus admitted that the lack of transparency and participation by developing countries had given rise to anger and that it would not have been possible to push through a declaration even if the US and EU and other developed countries had reached agreement among themselves.

The old ways of the WTO must now be changed. But it is far from clear that such reforms will come. The way the meeting in Seattle was organised was shameful. Change has been promised before (eg during the closing of the Singapore Ministerial in 1996) but the manipulative ways have worsened to the lowest point in Seattle. Will reforms really come? One has to be skeptical at this moment.

Most developing country delegations were quite happy with this result as they had been preparing to possibly reject any Draft Declaration that may have been presented to them for "consensus." Most countries wanted to avoid a new round.

The NGOs were very happy as they had campaigned against a new Round. At Seattle, there were also several Third World NGOs that had been doing advocacy work with their governments.

Work will probably resume in the WTO in Geneva in January.

Most delegations and NGOs are leaving Seattle on 4 or 5 December.

Meanwhile, the public protests are still continuing in some parts of Seattle.

All in all, a very remarkable week in Seattle.

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.