LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR CANCUN: ANOTHER DOHA 'SUCCESS'?
THE HEAT IS ON…
While Doha initiated negotiations in a few sectors, Cancun could well expand it into a full round and also endorse further liberalisation in key sectors, such as agriculture and services. On the table in Cancun will be the new issues of investment, competition policy and transparency in government procurement. Here, an explicit consensus by the membership will be needed to decide whether or not negotiations on these issues will be launched.
The stakes are very high for the developed countries suffering from a long drawn recession. They are also bent on ensuring that the WTO liberalisation bicycle, which collapsed in Seattle and was put back on its tracks in Doha, is given added momentum in Cancun. For developing countries, more liberalisation of agriculture and services and expansion of the WTO mandate through new agreements will further tighten the economic noose around their necks and is predicted to prove more damaging for them than even the infamous Uruguay Round.
RECREATING THE DOHA CONFIGURATION OF FACTORS WHICH LED TO ‘SUCCESS’
Harbinson as chair of the general council managed to produce an unbracketed
text indicating that a consensus existed when there was none
While still one year to Cancun, these configuration of factors are now systematically being put in place.
Harbinson’s style is "to construct a balance of interests in which everybody gives something and everybody gets something…" except that developing countries end up paying a very heavy price and receive nothing that is even distantly meaningful.
After Doha, Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe recounted his experience of the pre-Doha process: ‘The major countries realized they could not beat the Geneva process. Developing countries had built capacity in the Geneva process. Realising that they could not put their agenda through Geneva, they started to have meetings amongst a small group of members."
The meeting that changed things was the one held in Mexico (at the end of August). After Mexico, people started to see things differently. It was again a selected group. The follow-up to that meeting was Singapore, eventhough the DG said it was not a WTO meeting. However, both the chair of the general council and the DG were present. They also asked the Singapore ambassador to give a brief to the entire membership. According to press reports, what transpired in Singapore is very close to what was agreed in Doha.
This method lacks transparency and is a relic of the GATT, where countries that were strong trading nations came together and tried to push their agenda on to others’.
THE SYDNEY MINI-MINISTERIAL
from the host, Australia, the 23 countries invited are:
This is not very different from the usual 25 or so Green Room participants, with a few, important changes changes. For one, it is very significant that Pakistan has not been invited, an illustration of their weakened role since September 11 and the removal of their well-known and out-spoken Geneva ambassador, Munir Akram, earlier this year.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR BILATERAL DEALS WITH STRATEGIC DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Of the African countries on the Sydney invitation list, it is well-known that South Africa and Egypt (to a large extent) sing the tune of the US and EU. Kenya and Nigeria have also been frequently accosted by the US. In Doha, Kenya was leading the ACP countries and its Minister Biwott was the one responsible for putting the ACP waiver on the table, clearly after having been manipulated by the influential members. Kenya is currently leading the African Group in the WTO and unfortunately, because it has succumbed to pressures by the big countries, has not provided strong leadership to date.
It is likely that either Kenya or Nigeria will be again representing the African Group in Cancun. Their invitation to Sydney shows that the majors are already starting to build an understanding with their Ministers and to commence negotiations with them. Of the LDCs, only Lesotho and Senegal have been invited. Already, Lesotho has shown signs that it often acts under the influence of South Africa (more on Lesotho in the later section).
All ministers invited have already signaled that they will attend the mini-Ministerial (as of mid-September) with the exception of China. According to an Indian official, their preference would be that such an exclusionary meeting does not take place, but as long as it does, it's better to be there.
AGRICULTURE WILL TAKE CENTRE-STAGE
Agriculture is also turning out to be the most contentious issue in the run-up to Cancun. The majors in the agriculture negotiations (US, EU and Australia) will have to come to an agreement but the task before them, to be addressed in Sydney, would be for Australia and US to mend the splits within the Cairns Group and bribe or pressure countries, such as Indonesia, to remain on board. (See article above.) Their other critical task is to sell their position to those outside the Cairn Group, such as India and the African representatives.
There are also some very entrenched differences between the EU and the Cairns position, including the formula for tariff cuts and the extent of domestic support reductions. Various package deals will no doubt have to be made between EU and the various Cairns members.
BREAKING ALL PROCEDURAL RULES! ‘FLEXIBILITY’ IN PROCESS
LIKE-MINDED GROUP (LMG) PROPOSAL
Process in Geneva
at Ministerial Conferences:
Such reasonable suggestions, were met by tremendous opposition by some countries in June.
PROCESS PROPOSAL LED BY AUSTRALIA
emphasized instead, that "Prescriptive and detailed approaches to
the preparatory processes are inappropriate and will not create the best
circumstances for consensus to emerge in the Cancun meeting."
Clearly, the strategy for how the Quad countries and allies want Cancun played out has been laid down. The same breaking of rules should be allowed in the interests of achieving ‘consensus’. For an organization that is supposedly ‘rules-based’ it is rather shocking that procedural rules, because they work against the interests of the influential, are so flagrantly broken.
The LMG had submitted their paper in conjunction with the request that procedural guidelines should be established. The Chair of the General Council promised to convene consultations after the August break on this issue. It is not surprising that already one month after the summer break, no consultations have been held on this matter.
One developing country ambassador post-Doha puts these issues in perspective, "the informality of the process means that, in fact, it is a process of consultation and discussion behind closed doors. In that process, it means that those with clout will carry the most weight. There are few countries that would challenge a decision that has been put forward as a done deal."
This has again taken place. For example, US missions based in the developing countries have been selling its agriculture position to officials of these countries. This has had quite a significant impact on agriculture negotiations in Geneva - as previously bold positions put forward by developing countries are now under attack and are being watered down. For example, El Salvador, who was part of the ‘Development Box’ coalition of countries (asking for protection of their agricultural sector), announced in the market access agriculture session in early September that they supported the position of the United States advocating drastic tariff reductions.
Also, before Doha, ambassadors based in Geneva who pursued positions contrary to those of the majors and who refused to be silenced were targeted – and complaints about them were made to their bosses - ministers, even heads of states of their country.
This year, the same pressures have continued. The determined Ambassador of the Dominican Republic Federico Cuello was removed at the end of August because of his active role in the Like Minded Group Coalition. Likewise, the outspoken Ambassador of Pakistan was given a promotion and sent to New York earlier this year.
BREAKING THE COALITION OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
One example is the African Group position on finding an expeditious solution to the TRIPS and health issue. The Doha TRIPS and Public Health Declaration noted that Members with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector could face difficulties in making effective use of compulsory licensing. A solution to this problem is to be reported to the General Council by end 2002.
The African Group position calls for a variety of elements to be used in order for countries to find a solution that best addresses the public health crisis in their country when manufacturing capability does not exist. Their position is that an authoritative interpretation of Article 30 dealing with exceptions to the exclusive rights conferred by a patent is insufficient. Amending Article 31 dealing with compulsory liscensing is also insufficient. The EU position is that Article 31 should be amended, but in the interim, a waiver should be allowed until such an amendment is agreed to at the ministerial level. In contrast, the African Group is asking for all of these measures to be allowed, and that the waiver should be accepted as an interim, not a final solution.
Quite unexpectedly, in the last TRIPS Council meeting, Lesotho, without prior consultation with the African Group, presented a proposal stating that the waiver would be a sufficient solution, hence breaking the ranks of the African Group.
The fact that Lesotho clearly towing the line of certain influential countries has been invited to the Sydney Mini-ministerial, is not good news for either the African Group or the LDC coalition.
SHORT TERM PAIN OR LONG TERM LOSS
Unless groups can exert enough political pressure at the national level on their to stand by certain positions -- such as no more liberalisation in agriculture and services and no new agreements on investment -- we may well spend the next twenty years righting the wrongs of Cancun.
Aileen Kwa is a research associate with Focus on the Global South based
|September 25, 2002|