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Jane Kelsey WTO: Democracy a la WTO

Democracy a la WTO

BULLETIN # 8 FROM HONG KONG: 17 December 2005
By Dr Jane Kelsey

See also:
BULLETIN #1 - Creating a Climate of Fear in HK
BULLETIN #2 - The Antidote to Fear-Mongering
BULLETIN #3 - Opening skirmishes
BULLETIN #4 - Development Deceits
BULLETIN #5 - Standoff on Services
BULLETIN #6 - Declaration of Solidarity Lays Down the Gauntlet
BULLETIN #7 - Services Standoff Heightens Risk of Collapse

Frustrations continue to mount among many delegations in Hong Kong that the ‘facilitators’ appointed to oversee the major areas of negotiation (agriculture, non-agriculture market access, services and rules, and development) are simply ignoring their views and trying to railroad an outcome they oppose. Those tensions are coming to a head after the revised draft text was released around 2.30 pm on the second to last day of the six day ministerial meeting.

The World Trade Organisation trades on its claim to be rules based organization that operates by consensus. Yet its processes are amongst the most untransparent and undemocratic of any international institution. The lack of clear procedural rules has allowed the WTO Secretariat, the Director General and those he personally appointed to conduct negotiations to manipulate the process and the outcomes.

Stories of behind the scenes arm-twisting, inducements and threats by the major powers to get their way at previous ministerial meetings and in Geneva are legion. These have seriously undermined the legitimacy of the WTO among member governments who have been targeted and given credibility to its critics.

At this meeting, the abuses of process have been much more overt.

The focus for discussions is the draft declaration that was forwarded by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy for consideration by the trade ministers in Hong Kong. When the draft was considered by the WTO General Council in Geneva in November and early December many governments objected to one or more aspects. It was agreed that the document would include a cover note that said ‘the texts in all of these annexes were presented on the responsibility of the respective chairs. They do not purport to be agreed texts and are without prejudice to the position of any member’.

That cover note subsequently disappeared. Those governments whose objections had been rendered invisible were very angry. Many governments that have no representation in Geneva and came to Hong Kong cold were not aware of the disputed status of the text.

In Hong Kong Lamy has portrayed this document as a consensus text that was agreed to in Geneva – and that contested elements could only be removed if there was a consensus to do so. That position has been strenuously resisted by a number of governments. But the process and lack of rules makes it very difficult to do so and has created room for further procedural manipulations.

For several days the process remained underground. Facilitators were appointed by the Director General to listen to different governments’ positions and clarify the potential for consensus through an opaque process known as ‘confessionals’. The longer this process takes, the less chance there is for the membership to know what is being said and to dispute the facilitator’s conclusions. Once proposals do emerge for discussion, the facilitator determines the parameters.

This has been most controversial in relation to services. When Korean trade minister Hyung Chong Kim finally provided an opportunity to members to discuss the situation collectively he was confronted by strenuous opposition to the text and an alternative proposal. He asked members not to reiterate positions they had already stated, so many remained silent and relied on the spokesperson for their position to present the case.

At the end of the meeting, Minister Kim then concluded that only 15 countries had raised concerns about the text during their interventions, whilst 26 countries wanted the text to remain as is. His mathematics conveniently counted the Group of 90 members who oppose the text and whose views were expressed by a handful of speakers as one country.

To compound the insult Kim and the secretariat concluded that the alternative text forwarded by the Group of 90 had no status. By contrast, he proposed forwarding the hotly contested Annex C that sets out an approach to services that reflects the demands of richer countries if there was no agreement to the contrary!

A further subterranean process excludes the vast majority of members from participating in critical discussions. Once the ministerial meeting began, so did the notorious ‘green room’ where a small number of hand-picked governments discuss the various proposals, decide what should be agreed and report this to the remaining majority of members at the Heads of Delegation meeting. Because the ‘green room’ does not formally exist, there are no rules about who should be there or the status of their agreements. It has always been very difficult for the majority of WTO members that are excluded from the Green Room to challenges what emerges that process.

This year there was more effort to include representatives of various major blocs, but because the 28 invitees also included all the handpicked chairs and facilitators of negotiations it is stacked in favour of the powerful players. The meetings generally begin late at night until the early hours of the morning, setting the agenda for the next day’s discussions.

This is the source of the text that has been produced with just over a day to go in the meeting. Current reports suggest it is about to disappear again into another green room discussion before the majority of WTO members have an opportunity to engage with its highly controversial positions. How those who remain excluded and whose views have been disregarded will respond remains to be seen.

---- REPORT ENDS-----

Frustrations Mount As Draft WTO Text Produced In Hong Kong

Dr Jane Kelsey reports from Hong Kong: - Frustrations continue to mount among many delegations in Hong Kong that the ‘facilitators’ appointed to oversee the major areas of negotiation (agriculture, non-agriculture market access, services and rules, and development) are simply ignoring their views and trying to railroad an outcome they oppose. Those tensions are coming to a head after the revised draft text was released around 2.30 pm on the second to last day of the six day ministerial meeting. See... Jane Kelsey WTO: Democracy a la WTO MORE:
  • WTO - WTO Ministerial Hong Kong - Summary Of 17/12/05 & WTO Draft Ministerial Declaration - 17 Dec.
  • Oxfam - Response to draft WTO Ministerial text & Rich countries backsliding on promises
  • WTO: Services Standoff Heightens Risk of Collapse
  • WTO: Declaration of Solidarity Lays Down Gauntlet
  • Jane Kelsey WTO: Standoff on Services
  • Jane Kelsey WTO: Development Deceits
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