TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb16/04)
18 February 2016
Third World Network

Davos "euphoria" fails to click at WTO
Published in SUNS # 8182 dated 17 February 2016

Geneva, 16 Feb (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo suffered a setback last week when despite strenuous efforts, he failed to inject the "Davos euphoria" into the WTO and carry it forward by beginning a discussion on the remaining "DDA [Doha Development Agenda]" and "non-DDA issues" based on the "artificially" constructed Ministerial Declaration adopted at the tenth ministerial conference at Nairobi over two months ago, several trade envoys told the SUNS.

A large majority of developing and least-developed country members told Azevedo in no uncertain terms at the informal Heads of Delegation (HOD) meeting he had convened on Wednesday (10 February) that the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration (NMD) lacked "credibility" and "integrity" as it had excluded the participation of "a vast majority" of countries in shaping its contents.

They also reminded the D-G that they will not allow any attempt made to set aside the ongoing Doha Development Agenda negotiations because of the manufactured consent for the NMD, trade envoys told the SUNS.

In his hurry to carry forward the instructions issued by the United States, the European Union, Switzerland, Canada, and other developed countries at an informal ministerial meeting in Davos last month (23 January), Azevedo told the trade envoys at the HOD meeting that members should begin a discussion on two areas.

The major developed countries at Davos had called for beginning a discussion on the so-called "new approaches" for discussing the "remaining" Doha issues while also beginning the debate on "non-Doha [new] issues."

Azevedo said there is no consensus to deal with the DDA issues but all members reaffirmed commitment on the remaining Doha issues.

Around twenty trade ministers from major developed countries and some developing countries, the chair for the Nairobi meeting, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ms. Amina Mohamed, and Azevedo had attended the informal ministerial meeting hosted by the Swiss government on the margins of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos to discuss the work program for kick-starting work on new issues and new approaches.

But the informal Davos meeting cannot become the basis for starting work at the WTO when a large majority of members are not convinced that what happened at Nairobi was credible, Azevedo was told at the informal HOD at the WTO.

Several countries also pointed out that the Nairobi process lacked integrity for making any fundamental departure from the Doha Development Agenda negotiations, according to the trade envoys who spoke to the SUNS.

Azevedo echoed the Davos euphoria in his first meeting with trade envoys by telling them what they must look into in the NMD at this juncture. The director-general said he had convened the HOD meeting to carry forward the guidance ministers gave in Nairobi and quoted paragraph 33 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration.

Paragraph 33 of the NMD stated: "Mindful of this situation and given our common resolve to have this meeting in Nairobi, our first Ministerial Conference in Africa, play a pivotal role in efforts to preserve and further strengthen the negotiating function of the WTO, we therefore agree that officials should work to find ways to advance negotiations and request the Director-General to report regularly to the General Council on these efforts."

After claiming success for the Nairobi decisions reached at the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, on December 19, Azevedo told the informal HOD, it is "the second consecutive Ministerial Conference where 'we' delivered important outcomes."

He conceded that the "process" adopted in Nairobi was far from ideal, but pointed the finger at members for not completing the work in Geneva and allowing "too much" to be negotiated in Nairobi and on "too many open issues, even some without a text." He said members cannot afford all the political calls until the last moment.

But the moot issue is who took this "too much work" and "too many open issues" from Geneva to Nairobi even when he knew that there was no consensus on many of the issues prior to the meeting, a trade envoy commented to the SUNS.

"It was Azevedo who asked the chairs (of various negotiating groups) to bring all the issues to Nairobi, regardless of the differences and lack of consensus," the envoy from a South American country told the SUNS.

Now Azevedo cannot turn around and say that "whatever good has happened in Nairobi is because of you [members] and whatever bad has happened in Nairobi is also because of you all," the envoy said.

It's a classic case of shifting the responsibility when he was at the centre of the process that was adopted hand-in- glove with the chair of the Nairobi conference, Ms Amina Mohamed, the envoy pointed out.

"Isn't it shocking that in a meeting held in Africa for the first time, there is not one country from that continent that was called to the green room meeting in which the NMD was constructed as per the wishes of the United States and the European Union," the envoy said.

China and India should have insisted at the Nairobi meeting that South Africa ought to be called to the green room even though it was a non-representative group for an organization with 164 members, the envoy pointed out.

At Nairobi, there was no discussion on the crucial Part III concerning the post-Nairobi work program, said another trade envoy. "We were aghast that the language proposed by the US and South Africa at a breakfast group meeting in late November, and which was opposed vehemently at the green room meetings and did not fly, again found its way into the NMD, particularly the paragraph 30," he said.

The paragraph 30 reads: "We recognize that many Members reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, and the Declarations and Decisions adopted at Doha and at the Ministerial Conferences held since then, and reaffirm their full commitment to conclude the DDA on that basis. Other Members do not reaffirm the Doha mandates, as they believe new approaches are necessary to achieve meaningful outcomes in multilateral negotiations. Members have different views on how to address the negotiations. We acknowledge the strong legal structure of this Organization."

It is this issue that is rankling the members who spoke emphatically at the HOD against the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, particularly Part III, which was formulated by the US and the EU in close collaboration with the chair of the conference and the director-general, said an African trade envoy familiar with the Nairobi green room meeting.

Despite intense opposition from China to the language in paragraph 30, the US and the EU managed to insert their language, the envoy said.

Uganda's trade envoy Ambassador Christopher Onyanga Aparr was justified when he said at the HOD meeting that Part III of the NMD "was managed in a very isolationist manner."

"It ought to be recalled that this was the most critical part of the Declaration and yet the vast majority of the membership did not participate in shaping its outcome," an agitated Ugandan trade envoy told the director- general. "We were never consulted," said Ambassador Aparr, challenging the credibility of the Nairobi process.

Ambassador Aparr gave an educative lesson to Azevedo on the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that "codified the principle of the sovereign equality of states."

"This principle has been carried forward in all conventions and treaties that form the bedrock of international relations," the Ugandan envoy reminded the director-general. "We therefore reject any artificial and isolationist tendencies not grounded in public international law, engineered to deprive states of their inalienable rights of representation," Ambassador Aparr told Azevedo.

Another trade envoy who compared Azevedo to Henry Kissinger (notorious for his dirty tricks), said Azevedo had used similar tactics at Bali and Nairobi meetings to get an outcome he wanted, but now seemed upset with this rigorous lecturing by a trade envoy of Africa. The envoy said the director-general seemed miffed that the developing countries were placing hurdles in his attempt to carry forward the Davos euphoria.

Significantly, the developing countries poured cold water on the "Davos euphoria", which the WTO's director- general Roberto Azevedo attempted to promote by arguing that members must look carefully into both old and new issues, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

In their separate interventions at the HOD, many developing countries laid stress on addressing the outstanding issues of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), as called for in the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration. "Our view is that we should start work immediately on the remaining issues of the DDA towards its conclusion with development at the centre," Ambassador Aparr told the director-general.

The Ugandan assessment was shared by Zimbabwe, Lesotho (speaking for the African Group), Tanzania, South Africa, Cuba, Bolivia, India, and Indonesia among others, all of them issuing separate statements at the HOD meeting to drive home a strong message that the Nairobi package called for addressing the outstanding issues of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), particularly completing the work on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security purposes and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries, trade envoys told the SUNS.

The Nairobi package was finalized by the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Brazil, along with the conference chair Ms Amina Mohamed, Kenya's cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, and the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo at a marathon green room meeting that lasted for more than 24 hours.

The package was presented as a take-it-or-leave-it outcome to the rest of the membership which was kept in the dark till then, given about 1-1/2 hours to read and digest the NMD and its decisions, and agree or disagree, without much time to consult their capitals.

As a result of the usual WTO tactics of extending sessions at the last moment of the scheduled concluding day, several ministers and senior officials of delegations had left Nairobi, making the task of representatives of delegations left behind very difficult.

Meanwhile, with US trade agreements gaining prominence in the US presidential election campaign, and candidates belonging to both Republican and Democratic parties publicly taking hostile postures in party primaries under way, the Obama administration is considered as unlikely to do anything that may complicate the prospects for Democrats, according to some civil society groups and observers of the US political scene.

In short, the next 12 months are going to be spent at the WTO in efforts at interpreting the NMD and marking time. It would also test the resolve of developing countries whether they would allow "new approaches" for watering down the special and differential treatment flexibilities, said a trade envoy who was present at the meeting.