IT'S MONEY, NOT ABILITY, THAT COUNTS AT THE WTO
by Lewis Machipisa
Harare,8 Nov 99 (IPS) -- Negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are fast and tough. But as Teddy Chifamba has found out, it's money, not the ability to understand the intricacies, that sometimes decides who comes out on top at the WTO.
"Your mission has to be bigger than the number of meetings going on at the WTO, International Trade Centre and The UN Conference on Trade and Development," Chifamba told IPS.
Chifamba says he has been "frustrated, disgusted, confused and excited" during the past four years he has been with Zimbabwe's mission to the UN and WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, as deputy permanent representative.
Nevertheless, Chifamba, who is one of Zimbabwe's five negotiators at the WTO, has also found the experience challenging.
Chifamba's day begins "very early" in the morning. For the first one hour, 9:00 am, he is discussing with the African Group in preparation for a meeting that normally starts an hour late than the scheduled time. That is his first frustration.
On a "good day", which he says are rare to come by, there are three meetings going on at the WTO, UNCTAD and the International Trade Centre (ITC).
"Sometimes there are six meetings going concurrently so we have to target which one to attend," says Chifamba. That is where the confusion starts.
Chifamba, who will be part of the Zimbabwean team travelling to Seattle, USA, to participate in the WTO summit this month, says the size of their missions are small vis-a-vis the number of organisations to cover.
"You find that a person dealing with the WTO is also dealing with UNCTAD, International Trade Centre," he says.
Chifamba was in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare attending a consultative meeting, organised by UNCTAD/UN Development Programme (UNDP), to discuss Zimbabwe's positions at the Third Ministerial Conference of the WTO set for the end of this month in Seattle.
"What we do (in Geneva) is to select and prioritise and that is not an easy thing to do because at times you are dealing with issues of equal importance," he says.
"On a good day we obviously try to involve more than one or two officers from the mission but on a bad day it's only one person following the process. It's a nightmare," explains Chifamba.
A nightmare, not only for the Zimbabwean official, but for most of the trade negotiators in developing countries' missions in Geneva.
To make up for their small representation in Geneva, the African Group have tried to improve coverage of the meetings by assigning specific countries to cover certain areas and then compare notes. Chifamba admits it has not worked. "We have been talking about this issue for a long time but the actual implementation has been difficult. Countries have different interests," he says.
Chifamba's job has further been made difficult by the fast pace of negotiations.
"One assumes that when you come and negotiate you have read the input of all stake holders," notes Chifamba. "For us it has been rather difficult. During the Uruguay Round, there was adequate consultation, but after that, there was a lapse in our system in the sense that we did not have a coordination mechanism to provide technical back stopping (back up team) to the negotiators in Geneva."
"The amount of resources put by (poor) governments and private sector into preparing for negotiations (is little). In the case of the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), you are talking of a massive secretariat," says Chifamba. "Just the budget of the OECD is greater than that of UNCTAD."
"Just look at the European Commission, the multinationals who are really pushing developed countries to demand greater market access are putting lots of resources into trade negotiations, analysis, capacity building, including research and development in new technology," says Chifamba.
Though not all, African governments are now developing ways to strengthen their capacity in trade negotiations. This is very important considering that Africa's share of international trade is just two percent.
For example in Zimbabwe, the private sector has now offered to assist the government in equipping a unit which deals with WTO. After a week-long meeting in Harare (Nov 1-5), the private sector said it was prepared to send personnel to Geneva especially when dealing with negotiations of direct interest to them.
"It's not that developed countries' negotiators are sharper. It's only that they are more prepared because a lot of work has gone into the positions that they are advancing, years of study and statistical data," notes Chifamba.
"By the time they come to negotiate, they are years ahead in terms of research. But even given our limited capacities, we really take them on. They don't get it for free," he says.
"It's just that when it comes to some crucial negotiations, they can lend 200 people in Geneva. That is one country delegation and we are about just 10 for very special negotiations," he says. "Geneva is a very expensive place and for most developing countries it's discouraging to send people."
And the numbers may make the difference in the outcome of the negotiations.
"There are many techniques which are used in negotiations. One of them is to play for time," explains Chifamba. "You can go into a meeting and perhaps the first four hours they are talking past each other. It's done deliberately. They prolong meetings unnecessarily and give demands on us as small delegations to cover other meetings, it can disgust you".
Chifamba's frustration include the alleged use of money and threats by the donor countries.
"You can find that the big powers can go and put pressure in the capitals and during crucial African negotiations some delegations can receive some instructions which are contrary to what we would have agreed as a group. That weakens group cohesion.
"This is done either through promises of aid or whatever incentives would have been used or threats to cut aid."
"This is a major problem. Anything that weakens us is a major problem," he says.
Part of the solution, the Zimbabwean government has now discovered, is to get the positions of the stake holders in advance in order to create contact points so that during negotiations, negotiators like Chifamba, can postpone certain issues pending consultation with authorities back home.
"We are creating conditions now to improve on our performance so that we can really be a worthwhile negotiating team," he says. "This is not to say of course that we have not been effective."
"We want to bring together stake holders with a view to discussing not only issues for Seattle and post-Seattle but to resuscitate and give new life to the multi-sectoral coordination arrangements so that as negotiators, we will be negotiating on behalf of the stake holders and not just projecting the view of government departments and quasi-institutions," says Chifamba. (SUNS4548)
The above article by the Inter Press Service appeared in the South- North Development Monitor (SUNS) .