GENTECH archive


WTO Majority Is Tired of Being Manipulated (fwd)

The following article was published in International Herald Tribune 21
Dec 1999


            Paris, Tuesday, December 21, 1999
            Take Care, the WTO Majority Is Tired of Being Manipulated

            By Martin Khor International Herald Tribune
             PENANG, Malaysia - The World Trade Organization was prevented
in Seattle from agreeing on a new round of global negotiations to expand
trade liberalization because of divisions among the United States, the
European Union and Japan, as well as between rich and poor nations. 
            But the more basic cause of the Seattle failure was the
untransparent nature of the WTO system, its blatant manipulation by the
major powers. 

            The seeds of the North-South battle were sown in Geneva in the
weeks before Seattle. Developing countries voiced disappointment that five
years after the WTO's creation they had not seen promised benefits. 

            They put forward dozens of proposals, including changing some
of the rules. Most of their demands were dismissed. The major economies
pushed instead their own proposals to further empower the WTO by
introducing new areas such as investment, competition, government
procurement, and labor and environmental standards. 

            Developing countries in general opposed these new issues,
which would open up their markets more widely to the rich nations' big
companies, or would give these rich states new protectionist tools. 

            Worse still, the WTO secretariat was used by the major powers
to engage in untransparent procedures, such as holding informal meetings
on crucial issues in small groups to which most developing countries were
not invited. These so-called ''Green Room'' meetings infuriated the Third
World members of the WTO, who form a large majority of its 135
participating countries. 

            At Seattle, the U.S. trade representative, Charlene
Barshefsky, presided over an undemocratic process. She announced on the
second day her ''right'' as chairman to use procedures of her own choosing
to get a declaration out of the meeting. 

            She and the WTO director-general, Mike Moore, set up several
Green Room meetings on key issues of disagreement. Only 10 or 20 countries
(the major powers plus a few selected developing countries) were invited
to a typical Green Room meeting. 

            The plan of the organizers was to get the major powers to
agree among themselves, apply pressure in the Green Rooms on a few
influential developing countries to go along, and then pull together a
declaration to launch a new round that all members would be coerced to
accept in a special meeting on the last day. 

            The vast majority of developing countries were shut out of the
whole Green Room process. They were not even informed which meetings were
going on, or what was being discussed.  Ministers and senior officials of
most developing countries were left hanging around in the corridors or the
canteen, trying to catch snippets of news or negotiating texts. 

            Their anger boiled over on the third day of the conference. 
The African ministers issued a statement saying that there was ''no
transparency,'' that African countries were generally excluded on issues
vital to their future, and that they would not support a ministerial text
produced without consensus. Similar statements were issued by the
Caribbean Community ministers and by some Latin American countries. 

            Ms. Barshefsky and Mr. Moore were thus faced with the prospect
that if a draft declaration were presented at a final session, there would
be an explosion of protests and a rejection by developing nations. That
would totally expose to the public and the world media the manipulative
methods by which the Seattle conference, and more seriously the WTO in
general, had been run. 

            In the end it was less embarrassing to decide to let the
Seattle meeting collapse without attempting even a brief declaration. But
Ms. Barshefsky was forced to admit thatthe WTO had outgrown what she
called the processes appropriate to an earlier time. ''We needed a process
which had a greater degree of internal transparency and inclusion to
accommodate a larger and more diverse membership,'' she conceded. 

            Do her concluding remarks give hope for reform of the WTO's
decision-making system?  That depends on whether the developing countries
can now make use of the impasse to press for a democratic system. 

            The big powers will try hard to cling to their privileges. 
Ms. Barshefsky and the European Union's trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy,
announced that Mr.  Moore had been given the authority to carry forward
the Seattle process. Mr. Lamy said that Mr.  Moore would report directly
back to the ministers, implying that the post-Seattle negotiations would
be led by the director-general rather than the WTO's General Council, the
majority of whose members are developing countries. 

            The writer, an economist, is director of the Third World
Network, a group of nongovernmental organizations dealing with issues of
development and the environment. He contributed this comment to the
International Herald Tribune. 


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