TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June12/02)
14 June 2012
Third World Network

Lamy names panel to identify 21st century trade challenges
Published in SUNS #7351 dated 17 April 2012

Geneva, 16 Apr (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) - The World Trade Organisation Director-General Pascal Lamy announced on 13 April the composition of a panel of what he has described as "WTO stakeholders", and has asked them to examine and analyse challenges to global trade opening in the 21st century.

Described in the WTO press release as "WTO Panel on Defining the Future of Trade", and by one of its constituents as a "high-level panel", technically, it is essentially a group of consultants named by the WTO head, and not a body set up either by the WTO General Council or the eighth Ministerial Conference (held last December in Geneva) though the announcement tries to draw its lineage from that event.

[Lamy first suggested the idea of convening a "panel of multi-stakeholders" of the WTO in his opening address at the eighth Ministerial Conference. See SUNS #7284 dated 19 December 2011. See also SUNS #7300 dated 2 February 2012 for the article titled "From bicycle to snowball approach to policy".]

At the WTO's eighth Ministerial Conference in December 2011, Mr. Lamy had suggested that the profound transformations in the world economy require the WTO and the multilateral trading system to look at the drivers of today and tomorrow's trade, to look at trade patterns and at what it means to open global trade in the XXI century, bearing in mind the role of trade in contributing to sustainable development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.

At the Conference itself, in mentioning in his speech his intention to set up a "stakeholders' panel", he had carefully refrained from sharing with the collectivity of the Ministers any details of his thinking.

The Ministers, in their individual speeches, had expressed many views on the WTO and the impasse in its Doha trade negotiations (technically, negotiations on the "Doha Work Programme").

The WTO is a treaty organisation, and any actions of its members in the trade area or of the organisation has to be founded on specific rules or the decisions of the General Council or the Ministerial Conference.

The Conference at the end merely took note of all the speeches and statements, including that of Mr. Lamy. In terms of the rules and practices of the trade organisation, it means nothing.

At the time of the Ministerial Conference - where the major developed countries, and the WTO cheerleaders were trying to give a quiet burial to the Doha Round (and with it their treaty commitments at Marrakech in 1994 to carry out further reforms of their heavily subsidised agriculture sectors and trade), and instead press for "liberalisation" of financial services sectors - Lamy's idea of a stakeholders' panel was seen as a distraction from his task of holding the majors to their treaty commitments and deliver on their promises in the agricultural sector.

The announcement of his panel on 13 April was received cooly by the major developing countries, who are expected to consult among themselves to decide on what their response should be.

Many civil society groups viewed the panel as totally imbalanced and unrepresentative, even if one or two of them may be more receptive to organised Northern civil society groups.

The panel has been tasked with the analysis of these world trade drivers, which will be produced by the 12 panellists in early 2013, and can make an important contribution to the debate between Members on the best way to tackle these challenges, Mr. Lamy said.

"The difficulties we, and many other multilateral institutions, have encountered in recent years is indisputable proof that yesterday's solutions simply cannot be applied to the problems we face today. This panel encompasses experts from all corners of the world and nearly every field of endeavour. Their analysis will spark debate and open new channels of thinking on how we can best confront the stumbling blocks that today's rapidly evolving world has strewn in our collective path," said Mr. Lamy, in the WTO announcement about the panel.

The "WTO Panel on Defining the Future of Trade", will meet several times in 2012. In the autumn, it will have the opportunity to hear the views of WTO Members over these challenges. The first meeting of the group will be on 16 May in Geneva, said the press release.

The panellists are:

(1) Mr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman and Founder, Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Overseas Corporation, Jordan.

(2) Ms. Sharan Burrow, Secretary-General, International Trade Union Confederation, Brussels.

(3) Ms. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, New York.

(4) Mr. Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, US Chamber of Commerce, Washington.

(5) Mr. Frederico Fleury Curado, President and CEO, Embraer S.A, Brazil.

(6) Mr. Victor K. Fung, Chairman of Fung Global Institute and Honorary Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong, China.

(7) Mr. Pradeep Singh Mehta, Secretary-General, CUTS International, India.

(8) Mr. Festus Gontebanye Mogae, Former President of Botswana.

(9) Ms. Josette Sheeran, Vice Chairman, World Economic Forum, Geneva.

(10) Mr. Jurgen R. Thumann, President, BUSINESSEUROPE, Brussels.

(11) Mr. George Yeo, Former Foreign Minister, Singapore and Vice Chairman of Kerry Group Limited.

(12) Mr. Fujimori Yoshiaki, President and CEO, JS Group Corporation, Tokyo.

(* Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Editor Emeritus of the SUNS.)