The Guardian November 21, 2001


Developing countries face uphill task at Doha

In the lead-up to the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha the developing 
countries were subjected to an untransparent, manipulated process and 
presented with a biased and unbalanced text. The following report by MARTIN 
KHOR, director of the Third World Network, describes some of the obstacles 
set in the path of developing countries prior to the meeting. It was 
written before the meeting.

An extremely dangerous and outrageous situation has arisen in the WTO: 

The Doha Ministerial Conference is being set up by the WTO Secretariat and 
the major countries (particularly the US and EU) to pressurise developing 
countries to accept a New Round with its centrepiece being negotiations for 
new agreements in such critical but inappropriate issues as investment, 
competition, and government procurement.

In the past few weeks, the WTO has been subjected to incredibly 
manipulative practices:

* the late distribution (on night of Oct 27) of a biased, one-sided draft 
Declaration (prepared by the Chairman of the General Council with the 
assistance of the WTO Director-General) favouring the major countries and 
ignoring the views of most developing countries;

* only a few days are available for reading and responding to the draft 
before the one and only General Council meeting on October 31 to debate and 
decide on the draft Declaration and three other documents; 

* the refusal of the Chairman of the General Council to agree to demands 
from many developing countries that their opposing views on various issues 
be reflected in the text or in an annex; and his insistence on sending on 
to Doha the disputed "clean" text without getting a consensus or the 
agreement of the General Council;

* his refusal as well to indicate the differing views of the WTO Members in 
a covering letter dated November 5 accompanying the draft Declaration that 
was "transmitted" to the Trade Minister of Qatar, who will host the 
Ministerial conference.

There are also indications that the WTO Secretariat and the major developed 
countries will attempt to have a non-transparent and exclusive process in 
Doha, with "Green Room" meetings of a few pre-selected countries to work 
out texts on specific issues, which will then be put to all Members to 
accept  a repeat of the process in Seattle that caused such an uproar and 
led to that meeting's collapse.

However, the Qatar leaders hosting the event have stated they would not 
allow a repeat of the untransparent and undemocratic Seattle process.

Developing countries' officials and NGOs are hoping that this pledge will 
be met, but fear that the major countries and the Secretariat will muscle 
their way into conducting the meeting using the usual "Green Room" and 
other manipulative techniques.

The developing countries have a lot at stake in Doha. They do not want the 
conference to launch negotiations for new WTO treaties (especially on 
investment, competition, government procurement, trade facilitation) that 
would enable large foreign companies to take over the business of local 
firms and citizens and curb the right and ability of governments to devise 
and implement development policies.

They have been facing an onslaught from the major developed countries, 
especially the EU, the US and Japan, which are using many tactics to 
pressurise them to agree to a New Round, with the "new issues" at its 
centre.

Despite months of consultations at the WTO during which major disagreements 
emerged between developed and developing countries, especially on the new 
issues, the Chairman produced a first draft on September 26 that was 
already biased against the developing countries' views.

But at least the draft provided two options (either start negotiations, or 
continue to study the matter) for two of the new issues, investment and 
competition.

For another month, consultations continued at a frenzy pace, but the WTO 
members came no closer to agreement. It was then expected that the 
differences would be reflected at least in key areas of the next draft.

To the shock of developing countries, the second draft ignored their views, 
with even the study option removed for investment and competition: the 
draft commits Ministers to negotiate new treaties (with only a "concession" 
that the negotiations be preceded by two years of pre-negotiations!).

Thus, the draft may be "clean" in not reflecting divergent views, but it is 
manipulatively deceptive, as it hides the views of a large number of 
countries, and it favours one side against another. 

The WTO's General Council meeting on October 31 and November 1 was the only 
occasion where the delegations had the opportunity to give their views on 
the draft Ministerial Declaration (and other documents) before Doha.

A majority of developing countries that spoke at the General Council were 
very critical of the process by which the draft was issued and the content 
of the draft.

The main criticisms were that:

(1) The draft does not take into account the views expressed and submitted 
by developing countries but reflects the views of the developed countries, 
especially on the launching of negotiations on new issues and industrial 
tariffs, and on a broad work programme to be managed by a Trade 
Negotiations Commitee in a New Round. The draft is thus biased and one-
sided.

(2) The draft is untransparent and deceiving, as it deliberately does not 
set out the differences of views of various delegations.This is especially 
in the paras on the "new issues" of investment, competition, procurement 
and trade facilitation.

Even WTO officials admit that the WTO Members are "split down the middle" 
on these new issues.

Most developing countries do not want any negotiations to begin. Yet the 
text commits the WTO to start negotiations on all four issues (in the case 
of investment and competition, it commits the WTO to begin negotiations in 
two years' time after the 5th Ministerial, thus the next two years will 
already see pre-negotiations or in effect the first phase of actual 
negotiations).

(3) The draft is thus setting up a terribly unlevel playing field, with the 
majority of developing countries having to argue their case without their 
position being reflected at all in the important operative parts of the 
text.

(4) The developing country statements are also critical of the section of 
the text on "future of the work programme", which contains several elements 
of launching a New Round with a comprehensive negotiating agenda, with the 
"single undertaking" (all issues to be decided in a package) and with the 
setting up of a super organ called the Trade Negotiations Committee.

Many developing countries had criticised this section in an earlier draft. 
But their criticisms and alternative formulations were totallly ignored in 
this second draft.

(5) Finally the developing countries are frustrated and extremely upset at 
the process by which the Chairman of the General Council and DG of WTO 
secretariat are transmitting the draft to the Doha Ministers' meeting, 
although there is no agreement or consensus on the text.

Many delegations in their statements demanded that their views in areas of 
disagreement be reflected in a revised text, or at least that their views 
be noted in the text or an annex or cover letter.

However the Chair made clear he would transmit an unrevised text. This 
process of transmitting a one-sided text with no indication of divergence 
of views was heavily criticised by many delegations in their statements.

(6) The Chairman has subsequently (on Nov 5) transmitted the draft 
Declaration to the Trade Minister of Qatar, unrevised, and with a covering 
letter that does not explain the differences of views, even in the 
important sections.

This he has done despite the clear requests made by many delegations that 
their views should at least be reflected in his covering letter.

The process has been discriminatory and extremely non-transparent. 

The developing countries that spoke up critically in the October 31 Council 
meeting included Tanzania (on behalf of the least developing countries 
group) and Zimbabwe (on behalf of the Africa Group). Without double 
counting, the total number of countries contained in both groups are about 
50. (Some countries belong to both groups.) 

The two groups do not want negotiations to begin on the four new "Singapore 
issues [Investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade 
facilities-Ed]."

Several Asian and Carribean/Central American countries are also not in 
favour of negotiating the new issues. Prominent among them are India, 
Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Barbados, Jamaica.

The LDCs [least developed countries] and most African countries also do not 
want negotiations to start on industrial tariffs; they suggest that a study 
process in a working group be initiated, and its work should conclude 
before the commencement of any negotiations in industrial tariffs.

It is thus clear that a majority of developing countries are not in favour 
of negotiations on the new issues, nor the broad-based work programme that 
is contained in the draft Text.

And yet the draft text brought before the Ministers at Doha "make believe" 
that there is unanimity of views (co-inciding with those of the major 
countries) that negotiations should start for new issues in a New Round.

The conclusion that any objective observer would draw is that the pre-Doha 
process has been cleverly (or deviously) manipulated so as to set up the 
Doha Ministerial in a manner that enables the major developed countries to 
push through their unpopular agenda of new negotiations in a New Round, 
against the wishes of a large number of other Members.

The developing countries thus face a big and uphill battle, which is much 
more difficult than the one they faced in Seattle.

Although the Seattle process was most undemocratic (with only the Ministers 
of a few countries invited to take part in exclusive Green Room meetings, 
whilst the others were left in waiting in their hotel rooms), at least the 
draft Declaration contained the different views of the Members, making it 
more transparent to everyone what the differences were.

With the cards stacked against them, the developing countries have to 
insist on their right in Doha to a democratic and open decision-making 
process, in which each country has the opportunity to have their views 
expressed and more importantly to have their views reflected in a final 
Declaration that is "owned" by all.

Will democracy triumph over the manipulation of a few? Given the 
untransparent processes so far in Geneva, and the poor record of previous 
WTO Ministerial meetings, especially in Seattle, we cannot be too 
optimistic. But miracles can happen.

* * *
Next week: a full analysis of the outcomes of the WTO meeting. Acknowledgments: Third world Network. See their Web site for more articles on Doha: http://www.twnside.org.sg

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