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Dirty Tactics at Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference

by Tetteh Hormeku 

Third World Network-Africa (Accra), 12 November 2001
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),, 13 November 2001

TWN PRESS RELEASE November 12, 2001 

The undemocratic and manipulative methods which have characterised the operations of the WTO have moved into a higher gear barely six hours after the official opening of the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Doha, Qatar.

Six individuals with undefined and seemingly open-ended powers have been appointed in an untransparent manner to work out the elements of a consensus document which will be finally adopted as the Ministerial Declaration. Operating without reference to any established and commonly agreed procedures, these six individuals, named as the "friends of the Chair" of the Conference, are expected to conduct consultations with delegates, and out of these consultations produce what they judge to be the points of consensus for adoption in the Ministerial Declaration.

Many observers in Doha see this development as a worsening of the undemocratic, secretive and manipulative "green room" methods which excluded many African and other developing countries and led to the collapse of the third Ministerial Conference in Seattle two years ago. This time, the undemocratic methods and powers of the "green room" have been concentrated in the hands of six individual men. Speaking at a press briefing, Martin Khor of the Third World Network, noted that the "green room" has now become "green men".

The six "Friends of the Chair", who were announced to wide-spread consternation of developing country delegates, are supposed to deal with six subject matters on which there are to be consultations. They include the Minister of Trade of Canada, who is to deal with Singapore issues of investment, competition and government procurement. Mexico will deal with the issues of TRIPS; Chile, the issues of Environment; Singapore, to handle Agriculture; Switzerland, to handle Implementation issues; and South Africa to deal with rules of the WTO. All these countries support the launch of negotiations on all or some of the controversial new issues.

The criteria by which they were selected remains a secret to most delegates; so too the identification of the subject matters for consultation. They were announced in a way which left delegates no room for objection. Indeed the entire process surrounding the "six green men" has been described as a well-rehearsed coup d'etat carried out with the WTO secretariat in charge.

The process began with the opening ceremony of the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Friday, 9 November. The WTO secretariat contrived to smuggle the disputed draft declaration prepared from Geneva into the simple opening ceremony. Most developing countries have already raised serious objections to the draft declaration.

Thus after the Emir of Qatar and others had made their grand ceremonial speeches, and in the melee of the departure of his Eminence, Ambassador Stuart Harbinson, the Chairman of the General Council then presented his now infamous draft declaration. Since this was not a working but simply a ceremonial session, and in the melee of the making way for the Emir to take leave his guests, the delegates did not have the chance or see it fit to object, as they would have, to Ambassador Harbinson's presenting his disputed text as the working document.

The full significance of this manoeuvre hit delegates on the morning of the following day, Saturday 10. At a meeting of the Heads of Delegations of all the member countries, the Qatari Minister of Trade, who by virtue of being the host of the Ministerial Conference is also the Chair of the Conference, announced to delegates that, as they (the delegates) had agreed at the opening ceremony, the text presented by Ambassador Harbinson is now the working document for the entire Conference. On the basis of this he then announced a work plan to carry discussion forward. This plan included the appointment of the six "green men". Then he announced a schedule of discussions on identified subjects starting immediately with agriculture. From the reports, what transpired after this was almost farcical.

Apparently, after announcing his schedule, the Chairman was about to proceed immediately to discussion of the issue of agriculture when the WTO Director-General, sitting with him on the high table, drew his attention to the fact that some delegates wanted to raise issues with the procedure. Not knowing that the micro-phones were on, the Chairman was reported to have whispered something like: "but we are not supposed to give time for those kinds of discussions", to the hearing of all delegates. He relented, however, and developing countries, including India, Uganda and Zimbabwe, raised serious questions of procedure for redress. Without waiting for those questions to be addressed, he proceeded to invite other countries to speak on the topic of agriculture, but they declined.

The upshot was that the Chairman merely noted the points of procedure raised and proceeded to have the day's business as he had outlined it discussed. In short, he listened, but simply ignored what was said, and proceeded as if nothing contrary had been said against his announced agenda.

The tactic of simply ignoring contrary views has now emerged as part of the arsenal of tricks being employed by the powerful members of the WTO to sideline the demands of the developing countries. Instead of not consulting as in the past, the trick now is to consult but ignore views contrary to the person doing the consultation. This was exactly the method adopted by the Director-General of the WTO, together with the Chairman of the General Council, Ambassador Harbinson, during the discussions in Geneva in the preparation of the draft declaration which has now been tabled as the working document of the conference.

It will be recalled that at the end of September, Amb. Harbinson produced his first draft declaration. Developing countries bitterly denounced as imbalanced because it included only the issues raised by developed countries, while excluding the issues raised by the developing countries. The developing countries then re-stated their issues, together with specific sentences that should be included in a revised draft. Amb.

Harbinson listened to all this, but produced a second draft which excluded even those issues for developing countries that were in the first draft; and did include any of their proposals for revising the first draft.

This throws light on the role that six" green men" are will be playing during the on-going Ministerial Conference. As stated above, the six individuals will operate without any procedure as to who they should consult and how. Nor is there any procedure to check if the views of the people he is consulting are being reflected in whatever document he produces and therefore in the final document it is meant to feed into. And finally there is not mechanism by which delegates can add other subject matter to those identified by the green men.

In short, the Friends of the Chairman have been set up to operate according to their own wisdom, as to what is basis of consensus, and using their own methods. There are two pointers to what is likely to the content of this wisdom of the individual green men? All the five individual friends of the Chair are from countries that support the launch of negotiations on one or other of the new issues. Secondly, at a briefing to US NGOs, the US trade delegation gave indication about its involvement with the design and implementation of the plan to appoint the six friends of the Chair as the working method for the Ministerial Conference.

Thus, the "six green men" represents a collusion between the management of the WTO, the Ministerial Conference and the powerful countries to ensure that the outcome of the Ministerial reflect their will and interest. In the process they have shown that they are desperately prepared to ride rough-shod over the rules and proper procedure.

Accounts from delegations so far about how the whole set-up seems to be working gives cause for worry. Some of the "friends of the chair" have virtually set up court waiting for the delegations to come and talk to them. Others have decided to conduct one-on-one discussions with selected country-delegates. In these one-on-one meetings, one delegate has no way of knowing what other country delegation may have said. Each country has to rely on the "honesty" of the particular "green man" to faithfully convey their own positions to the other delegates and vice-versa.

Already there are accounts emerging to the effect that some delegates positions are being misrepresented to other delegations. This is especially dangerous in the cases where some developing countries have adopted common positions and platforms, as in the case of the Africa group. The one-on-one consultation as seems to be proceeding provides opportunity for fragmenting the front as different stories are told about this or that delegation presenting a different position from the previously stated or agreed common position.

Ultimately, this is a set-up designed to frustrate developing countries and subjugate them. They have to jump through three handicaps in order to promote their interests in the on-going negotiations. First they arrived in Doha with an agenda for discussion which excluded their points of view. So rather than a balanced text in which every body's issues are taken as the point of negotiation, developing countries now have to fight for their issues to be included in the text in order to begin the battle of negotiations. Secondly, if they manage to achieve this, they then have to withstand pressures, blackmail, bribery and threats from the developed countries in order to stand by their positions on the issues being negotiated. On top of all this, thirdly, they now have to deal with a process which is calculated to make it impossible for them to include their issues in the negotiating agenda.

This is the essence of the outrageous situation developing countries are confronted with at the fourth WTO ministerial conference. How they respond to this will determine not only their future, but indeed the future of the multi-lateral trading system as a whole.

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