Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec17/13)
Geneva, 8 Dec (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) - If the Mauricio Macri government of Argentina, hosts to the WTO's eleventh ministerial conference (MC11), perhaps in collaboration with, or connivance of, parts of the WTO leadership, is seeking to create diversions (like a magician on a stage focussing the audience's attention on the left hand, while the right carries out tricks) to promote some Northern agenda, they cannot do a better job than they are doing now in pre-conference moves.
Even before the WTO members at Ministerial level convened for the MC11 opening on Sunday 10 December and adopted the agenda for the conference, the chair of the conference, Ms. Susana Malcorra, parachuted on 7 December (without prior consultation and consensus of the MC), five "green men" (in fact two women and three men) as "facilitators" on some of the issues on the draft agenda, including controversial issues not on the current Doha mandate such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, and disciplines on micro, small and medium enterprises!
Even for an organisation like the WTO, with a secretariat and leadership functioning in a non-transparent way to the vast majority of its membership (but promoting the neo-mercantilist agenda of a few leading nations), Ms. Malcorra's action was a sprint across several milestones at the WTO.
The host government has already created global outrage, focussing attention on their action in banning some 60 NGO representatives, duly accredited by the WTO, from participation in MC11 and related events, adducing various reasons and making allegations against those banned that do not stand a moment's scrutiny.
They are also creating diplomatic and domestic political problems for the governments of nations where the NGO representatives and/or their organisations are located.
In some latest examples of this, when the representative of ATTAC Norway (banned from participation), who had neither been notified by Argentina nor had received before beginning the journey to Buenos Aires intimation from the WTO, landed at the airport, he was stopped at immigration, kept incommunicado and was unable to contact any local legal help.
His embassy in Buenos Aires that had meanwhile already taken up with the Argentine authorities the ban, was apparently advised by the authorities to seek redress through court.
(The Argentine immigration regulations and law apparently require that visitors with visas or from countries that do not need visas can be denied entry at border posts only on grounds specified in the law, and have recourse to judicial processes against any denial of entry).
Even as these processes were being set in motion, the immigration authorities at the airport put the ATTAC Norway representative on board a plane and sent him back to Brazil, the last point from where he had emplaned to reach Buenos Aires.
While the deported ATTAC Norway representative, Petter Slaatrem Titland, charged the Norwegian Foreign Minister with acquiescence and complicity by remaining silent, some other members of that delegation including Parliamentarians have raised the issue, and this is expected to complicate Norwegian domestic politics.
[Other NGOs from the region, following events in Argentina, also noted that the Macri government was creating many diversions vis-a-vis MC11, and in terms of their domestic politics and political divides. The latest, they say, are efforts to strip former president, and now Senator, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of parliamentary immunity and be prosecuted for "high treason" for her role in signing a Memorandum of Agreement with Iran aimed at trying to continue the investigation into the bombing of the AMIA building (offices of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires).
[While an issue of internal politics (and involving parts of Argentine judiciary with some dubious reputation for independence), it diverts too local media attention away from the global outrage over bans on NGOs vis-a-vis MC11.]
Meanwhile, in a comment on the developments at the WTO and its MTS (multilateral trading system), Mr. Daniel Gross, Director of the Brussels-based European Policy Forum, underlines that the three major players - China, the EU, and the US - with roughly equal trading volumes seem to have limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system.
"With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization," he says.
Trade observers note that while the three major trading powers may have little incentive to fight for the rules-based multilateral trading system (though they may not realise that if the system collapses they will be major losers too), the overwhelming majority of the other middle and small trading nations need to join hands at Buenos Aires and stand up against the tactics of either the host and/or the WTO leadership.
If the Macri government does not reverse course to ensure a democratic, deliberative atmosphere for the conference, they should just move at the opening session itself to adjourn the conference, to meet again at a high Ministerial or other equivalent level in Geneva (at the General Council) to take up and decide on the long agenda now before the conference.
[* Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Editor Emeritus of the SUNS.]