TWN Info 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 said.

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, and Japan.

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 small package.

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 membership.

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 envoy.

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.