Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar16/01)
1 March 2016
Third World Network
DG shrugs off own responsibility, role for NMD process, outcome
Published in SUNS #8189 dated 26 February 2016
Geneva, 25 Feb (D. Ravi Kanth) - The WTO Director-General, Roberto
Azevedo, tried to shrug off at the General Council on Wednesday (24
February), the severe criticisms from several African and Latin American
nations about the non-inclusive, opaque process adopted at Nairobi,
by saying "I think Nairobi showed that we need to improve the
way we work in Geneva."
While making this remark, in effect blaming delegations at Geneva,
Azevedo failed "to come clean" on what precisely was his
own role along with that of the chair of the tenth ministerial conference,
Ms Amina Mohamed, Kenya's cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, in
the adoption of the "grotesquely opaque" green room process
that finalized the Nairobi package, including the Nairobi Ministerial
Declaration (NMD) that was forced down on the membership, several
trade envoys told the SUNS.
The Nairobi green room talks involved only five countries - the United
States, the European Union, China, India, and Brazil - and the remaining
159 members were kept out of the picture until the five, with Amina
Mohamed and Azevedo participating, produced the package.
Several African and South American countries severely criticized the
unseemly, non-inclusive green room process adopted at the Nairobi
meeting during 15-19 December 2015, in which they were denied their
basic negotiating rights.
The "isolationist" and "destructive post-Nairobi work
program as contained in Part III of the NMD was foisted on the members
without their engagement," an African trade envoy maintained.
At the General Council meeting on Wednesday, Azevedo once again shrugged
off criticisms about the non- inclusive, opaque process adopted at
Nairobi. He merely said: "I think Nairobi showed that we need
to improve the way we work in Geneva."
"Despite the fact that we succeeded in delivering some important
outcomes, there's no doubt that there are lessons to be learned,"
he said. What is the reason for adopting the negotiating process at
Nairobi? Azevedo's answer is: "Too much was left to negotiate
in Nairobi itself."
"In future, by the time we make transition from the Geneva process
to the Ministerial Conference, we should aim to be in a much more
advanced position," he argued.
Azevedo went on to suggest that "two elements" are essential
for delivering outcomes in the future. The two elements are: members
"need to be in closer contact with capitals, to obtain more regular,
substantive and updated political instructions"; and members
"need to engage Ministers more throughout the process - not just
at the end." Therefore, members "need to look at precisely
how this could be achieved," the director-general argued.
According to an African trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted, Azevedo's
explanation lacked minimal "credibility" and "integrity".
Surely, we all know that he is the "mastermind" behind the
Nairobi green room meeting which was chaired by Ms Mohamed, the envoy
The director-general, according to the envoy, was singularly responsible
for "too much was left to negotiate in Nairobi itself."
This is plain, since Azevedo is the chair of the Trade Negotiations
Committee (TNC) which did not conduct its work properly and discharge
its responsibilities in terms of para 46 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration,
in the run-up to the Nairobi meeting.
Also, it suited the big players, particularly the United States, and
the director-general to manufacture an outcome in an opaque process
at Nairobi which was not possible in Geneva, the envoy said. The NMD
would not have been possible if it was held in an open and inclusive
meeting involving all the members, the envoy added.
The constant refrain from several trade envoys is that the director-general
did not convene day-and-night Room W meetings before the Nairobi ministerial
as he did for e.g. for the Trade Facilitation Agreement negotiations
in the run-up to the WTO's ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia,
in December 2013.
After assuming office in September 2013, Azevedo worked on a war-footing
to address over 200 square brackets in the TF text. But when it came
to finalizing the post-Nairobi work program, Azevedo left almost everything
in a state of utter confusion until the last day of the ministerial
on December 19, trade envoys said.
Instead of convening regular informal TNC meetings, the director-general
chose to conduct negotiations through a group of seven countries involving
the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, Australia,
These G-7 countries along with Azevedo finalized the small package
at a meeting hosted by Australia in the first week of September last
year. At that meeting, the US spelt out what would go into the small
package. The US had then said: "export competition in agriculture,
LDC package, transparency (in Rules, fisheries subsidies and domestic
regulation in services), ratification of TFA by Nairobi, ITA-2, and
two new accessions (Afghanistan and Liberia)" will go into the
The director-general who was present at the G-7 meeting in the Australian
mission said "we [the G7 members] should focus not on problem
areas but on potential deliverables."
"We somehow need to find time for the latter. I will brief the
membership tomorrow on the general mood and will also talk to LDCs
on deliverables," Azevedo maintained, according to the record
of the meeting retained by the participants.
In his concluding statement at the G-7 meeting, Azevedo said: "It
does not look certain what we can do in DS and MA. Adjustment to Rev.4
on Export Competition is needed. Ways of improving Bali decisions
on LDCs needed."
Subsequently, the director-general left the work to the chairs for
the negotiating bodies while he was busy touring places outside Geneva.
He did not convene the Room W meetings on a daily basis as he did
for the Bali meeting. The director-general occasionally held green
room meetings, but not sustained Room W meetings involving the entire
Indeed, the conspicuous absence of the director-general during the
Room W meetings in the third and fourth weeks of November last year
caused anxiety for people involved with the Nairobi meeting. An authoritative
source involved with the Nairobi meeting said on November 22: "In
the run-up to the Bali ministerial meeting in December, 2013, Azevedo
attended each Room W meeting and also simultaneously held meetings
with members in different configurations."
"However, for Nairobi he has almost abdicated his role despite
being the chair for the Trade Negotiations Committee," the source
told the SUNS, as reported in an issue in the run-up to Nairobi (see
SUNS #8141 dated 24 November 2015).
"Clearly, there is a danger that the draft ministerial document
covering the major issues, including the small package of deliverables
and the post-Nairobi work program will not be ready by the time ministers
start arriving in Nairobi," the source maintained.
Even when things remained clear that the chances of a substantive
agreement on export competition are close to zero because of over
100 square brackets and lack of convergence in other areas, the director-general,
in his capacity as the chair for the Trade Negotiations Committee,
goaded the chairs to bring all the issues to Nairobi.
However, in his formal address to the General Council on December
7, he had something different to say. "We currently, today, have
no deliverables for Nairobi - either on the potential outcomes that
we identified, or on the Ministerial Declaration. Beyond the written
reports I listed earlier, the General Council has nothing to transmit
for the consideration of our ministers in Nairobi."
"Nevertheless, we do still have the chance of delivering some
significant elements in the extremely limited time available,"
Azevedo told the GC meeting.
So, he told members that they have a "chance of delivering some
significant elements in the extremely limited time available."
How is this possible unless he had a clear idea of the process that
would be adopted at Nairobi to ram through an agreement without the
involvement of the members at large, asked another trade envoy.
Moreover, he knew that the best format to push the agreement was the
G-5 and not the normal green room that would involve at least more
than 20 countries, the envoy suggested.
Ms. Mohamed, when she was the GC chair in 2005 at the Hong Kong Ministerial
Meeting, knew the green room meeting involved over 20 countries. Surely,
it would not be her idea that the Nairobi green room should be limited
to five, the trade envoy said.
Several developing country trade envoys are also angry with Azevedo
for his pronouncements that "there is no consensus about how
to address the DDA."
As the chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, he has no business
to declare that "there is no consensus to address the DDA but
there is a strong commitment to advancing negotiations on the remaining
Doha issues." He seems hell bent in denying an opportunity for
the developing countries to pursue the DDA, said an African trade
In short, despite his best efforts to shift the blame on to the members
for the Nairobi outcome, Azevedo must own the responsibility for assisting
and navigating the chair of the conference in finalizing the NMD which
clearly doesn't represent the interests of an overwhelming majority
of WTO members.
It is a different story that the NMD went according to the script
the United States provided to the director- general, said a South
American trade envoy.