TWN Press Release

Third World NGOs condemn secretive and undemocratic nature of Ministerial Conference

The undemocratic nature of the WTO Conference, where only a few countries were invited to "informal" negotiating sessions, was a major talking point. On 12 December, the Third World Network issued a Press Release criticizing the untransparent process. This was widely covered by the media. Below is the TWN Press Release.

Third World Network, an international grouping of NGOs in developing countries, is extremely concerned about the non- transparent way in which the WTO Ministerial Conference is being run.

Most developing countries are unable to follow, let alone participate, in the real negotiations of key issues that have gone "underground" in the many informal meetings. An investigation by TWN shows that delegates of many developing countries are in the dark about the state of negotiations in the informal groups.

Only a few countries are invited to attend the "informal meetings" on the "unresolved new issues" such as investment, competition policy, labour standards and government procurement, which the developed countries are pushing to include in the Ministerial Declaration. The developed countries are represented in all the informal groups, but only a small number of developing countries are called in to participate.

In such circumstances, it is much easier for the major countries to "persuade" and pressurise the developing countries to agree to their agenda. And once the small informal groups reach agreement, the Declaration will be thrown to the non-participating countries to accept and sign on to.

NGOs have been very critical of the undemocratic, non- participatory and untransparent nature of the WTO's operations, in which the real decisions on important issues are taken by a few chosen countries behind closed doors, whilst most other countries are unable to even monitor what is going on. Needless to say, the public, the NGOs and the media are also kept in the dark on what is happening. This general way of functioning is again being seen in the Singapore Ministerial Conference.

We are concerned that this method of functioning is most biased towards the developed countries who, with the large delegations and well-prepared agendas, are able to make use of the small informal group system to isolate the majority of WTO members and get their way in the negotiations.

As a result, the issues of interest to developing countries (such as a review and problems of implementing the WTO agreements) have been brushed aside, despite the opening day's rhetorics. Indeed, despite a fanfare of publicity about the need to help LDCs, no concrete measures are likely to emerge in this Conference.

It is likely that the rich countries will get their way in this Ministerial Conference, once again ignoring the needs and problems of the South, whilst adopting the Northern agenda of yet more new issues which will cause yet more problems for the developing countries to digest.