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HEADING INTO WILD WEATHER FOR SEATTLE?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan


Geneva, 11 Oct 99 -- An informal meeting of the heads of delegations of the World Trade Organization, set for Tuesday to discuss a Seattle Ministerial Declaration based on a 7 October draft of the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. Ali Mchumo of Tanzania, seems headed for serious confrontations that at the minimum will throw a spanner into the works for Seattle.

Though Chairman Mchumo is valiantly owning responsibility for the draft, it is now common talk and knowledge among trade diplomats that the version issued on 7 October is a secretariat draft that has been recast and redrafted by the United States.

As of Sunday night, many trade diplomats said that based on their discussions with Mchumo, they expect him to issue a revised draft, at the minimum putting back into the text the implementation proposals of the developing countries, and only a revised text would be the basis for further discussions at the General Council.

However, on Monday morning they got advice from the secretariat of a meeting set for Tuesday morning to discuss the 7 October draft.

There were reports Monday evening that an addendum to the 7 October draft was being issued, and was expected to reach members Monday evening, and that this may take note of the developing country proposals on implementation, and for its inclusion within square brackets under paras 21 and 22 of the Chairman's draft.

Several of the Third World diplomats said they would await these texts before they could make any comment.

But before this, several of them had privately complained that the Chairman appeared to have gone back on his earlier assurances to them, largely under pressure from the United States and the Cairns Group, and has agreed to open the discussion on the basis of his 7 October draft - printed on plain paper and known in WTO technicalese as JOB (99) 5868.

IN A 7-PAGE ADDENDUM TO HIS ORIGINAL TEXT ISSUED LATE MONDAY EVENING, MCHUMO HAD SAID THAT THE ATTACHED ADDENDUM REFLECTED ADDITIONAL TEXT FOR CONSIDERATION UNDER PARAS 21 AND 22 OF HIS ORIGINAL TEXT, AND THAT THE ADDENDUM WAS BEING CIRCULATED BY HIM ON HIS OWN RESPONSIBILITY, FOLLOWING REPRESENTATIONS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE TO HIM BY A LARGE NUMBER OF DELEGATIONS AND WITH A VIEW TO ASSISTING THE FURTHER EVALUATION OF THE DRAFT TEXT IN THE RELEVANT AREAS.

The addendum sets out under para 21 of the original text, one set of proposals tabled by a group of developing countries on immediate decisions to be taken at Seattle on a number of implementation issues and under para 22, another set of proposals under the implementation mechanism that calls for decisions in the first year of negotiations.

The addendum may meet some of the objections of the developing countries on implementation issues, though they have objections to the way the mandated negotiations and built-in agenda of reviews have been mixed and put along with the Singapore issues as subjects for negotiations.

The EC, Japan and others are also objecting to the way the 'agriculture' negotiations have been formulated.

But even when discussion begins, it seems apparent that many more formulations and alternatives will be tabled by the members in the informal HOD process, and until these are incorporated into a single text, further work at the informal HOD process or in smaller groups will get complicated and difficult.

And over and above this, the delegations will want to be reassured that in the run-up to Seattle, the secretariat under Moore does not become an extension of the US mission and constantly put them at a disadvantage.

Over and above the serious trade issues with high stakes involved in the preparations for the Seattle and post-Seattle agenda for the WTO, is the perception very widely shared among members that under New Zealand's Mike Moore, the US is now running the secretariat.

In his initial appointments, and rumoured future appointments, many members see Moore as playing the partisan game of giving jobs to those who helped his election.

But the partisanship demonstrated in the preparatory process now is viewed more seriously.

"This will work to the disadvantage of the secretariat and its future, as well as put the host country into more trouble at Seattle," some observers with past experience of GATT and its workings say.

Trade diplomats, and even some secretariat officials, speaking on conditions of anonymity, say that the 7 October draft, issued by the Chairman on his own responsibility, was the one that the US re-drafted and gave to the secretariat to be issued, in place of a version prepared, and unofficially available to many delegations on 6 October.

After the Chairman's text -- JOB(99)5868 -- was issued to delegations, the "like-minded group" of developing countries considered the draft and conveyed to the Chairman that since their own proposals (on implementation) that had been found in the 6 October version had now been taken out, they were not prepared to take the new version even as a basis for discussions.

And on 8 October, at a meeting of the so-called 'invisibles' group at the US Trade Mission, the European Community and Japan, as also several other participants from the developing world, appear to have accused the US of hijacking the Seattle process to suit its domestic electoral political agendas.

Till Sunday evening, many developing country trade diplomats, were confident that a new revised draft would be put forward by Mchumo.

However, they said, it was their understanding that the Cairns group (led by Australia) that often sides with the US, met Mr. Mchumo and pressed him to convene a meeting on the basis of his draft.

These diplomats said that while any delegation, chairing the General Council or a WTO body depends to a large extent on the secretariat, Mr. Mchumo is even more handicapped than others: he has a very small mission, with only another diplomat besides him to deal with trade, and a small support staff at his mission. He has to depend on the WTO secretariat for many services, and the secretariat and the US are taking advantage of this. (SUNS4527)

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

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