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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2002 / 1114

1114

14 november 2002

150 civil society groups denounce sydney wto mini-ministerial as illegitimate and anti-democratic

Over 150 civil society groups world-wide denounce the “invitation only” Mini-Ministerial of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held today and tomorrow in Sydney and in which the EU, represented by the European Commission (1), will play a lead role.

Signatories of a civil society statement issued today include prominent NGOs, such as Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and even the Greens / European Free Alliance Group of the European Parliament.

According to these groups, the Sydney meeting where only 25 governments have been invited is illegitimate since de facto and illegally, this group is assuming an executive role on behalf of the majority. Key WTO Secretariat Staff will also be present. The issues that will be discussed will include: Agriculture, the Singapore Issues (Investment, Competition, Transparency in Government Procurement), Trips and Health.

Invited members, including the EC, argue that such meetings are necessary to achieve consensus in the WTO. However, civil society groups world-wide challenge such notions as a violation of the very democratic principles enshrined in the constitutions of the powerful member states.

According to the signatories, these meetings are fundamentally flawed because: the criteria of countries selected is unknown; no written record is kept of the discussion; decisions are made that affect the entire membership and the agenda is set on their behalf and in their absence.

“WTO agreements oblige governments to undertake serious legislative and regulatory reforms that impact domestic policies not just limited to trade, and therefore it is unacceptable that the WTO, to this date, has failed to devise a system that incorporates all of its members to build a real consensus,” said Shefali Sharma from the Institute from Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Geneva Office. “It does not matter what one does on substance, if the outcome is pre-determined by a few.”

Several WTO government members have expressed their deep frustration with the Sydney meeting.

“Unless we change the manner in which Ministerials (and the preparation for these ministerials) are conducted, we are wasting our time holding negotiations in Geneva. As deals are done and positions reached when the chosen few meet amongst themselves, the rest of the membership will be persuaded and coerced to accept such positions and deals”, says Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe.

The statement calls on ministers to reject such meetings and for members to devise an effective and accountable system of decision-making that eliminates power politics before any more agreements are added through a false consensus.

For more information, contact

Aileen Kwa at , Tel: +41 (079 371 3774), Focus on the Global South.

Geneva Shefali Sharma at ssharma@iatp.org, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Geneva Tel: +41 22 7890724 (on travel till 16 Nov).

Alexandra Wandel, Friends of the Earth Europe, Brussels, mobile: +49-172-748 39 53

Notes:

(1) Members invited to the Sydney Mini-Ministerial include: Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Egypt, the European Commission, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, the US and one representative from the Caribbean.

 

Copy of the NGO statement:

NGOs Call on Trade Ministers to reject EXCLUSIVE-MINI MINISTERIALS AND GREEN ROOM MEETINGS IN THE RUN UP TO, AND AT THE 5TH WTO MINISTERIAL.



The 14-16 November mini-ministerial in Australia is a step in the wrong direction for the WTO.

Civil society groups from around the world call upon the 145 WTO member states and their trade ministers to follow transparent and inclusive procedures and reject the use of ‘unofficial’ and exclusive mini-ministerials in the run-up to the WTO’s Fifth Ministerial in Cancun and of Green Room meetings during Cancun.

Participation in these mini-ministerials and Green Room meetings is by invitation only, and includes about twenty-five countries, yet they discuss critical WTO matters affecting all member states. The use of such exclusionary meetings to build consensus among the few which is then presented to the majority as a take-it-or-leave-it package, must be rejected by WTO member states as clearly undemocratic and in violation of the one-country-one-vote and consensus system of the WTO.

These meetings are fundamentally flawed because
1) the criteria of countries selected is unknown;
2) no written record is kept of the discussion;
3) decisions are made that affect the entire membership and the agenda is set on their behalf and in their absence;
4) an attempt is made to build ‘consensus’ on critical WTO negotiations by a select group which de facto and illegally takes leadership of the organisation.

The holding of such illegitimate and ‘unofficial’ mini-ministerials and Green Room meetings should not be accepted by WTO members. This process violates the spirit of international cooperation and undermines democratic principles for an international institution that creates legally binding and enforceable agreements for 145 governments worldwide.

The historical record of the WTO shows that before the WTO Ministerial meetings in Singapore (1996), Seattle (1999) and Doha (2001), mini-ministerials were held to promote the goals of the major developed countries. The same process is now taking place on the road to Cancun. The major powers in the WTO regularly make use of such ‘mini-ministerials’ to pressure developing countries to accept their positions which have been contrary to the interests of development.

Such meetings substantiate the endemic problems of transparency that have plagued the WTO since its inception in 1995. As recently as May 2002, a group of fifteen developing countries put forward recommendations addressing critical transparency problems affecting balanced and fair decision-making in the WTO. These concerns currently remain unaddressed.

Doha represented raw power politics and a non-transparent and non-inclusive process of consensus building. The two mini-ministerials held before Doha continued in the form of ‘Green Room’ meetings in Doha with the same configuration of 23 or so countries. After an unauthorised extension of the Ministerial and a final all-night marathon, the final package was presented to the other delegations in the absence of many of their Ministers, who were unable to accommodate the unexpected extension of the Ministerial meeting. Attempts by other delegates to make changes to that final package were prevented on the excuse that there was no time, and that the package would fall apart like a ‘house of cards’. In such a context, it becomes nearly impossible for developing countries to stand up for views that are contrary to those already determined in the ‘Green Room’ meetings. Most are afraid that they would face a multitude of repercussions, political and trade-related, including the suspension of trade preferences to the US and EU markets, investment and aid. Some developing country representatives, invited to such meetings feel that it is better to be present to put forward their countries’ interests, than to boycott these meetings.

In addition, WTO Secretariat staff, supposed to be neutral ‘international bureaucrats’ often advocate positions of the powerful members, for example, by encouraging negotiations on new issues. A dangerous precedent has also recently been set. The Secretariat is now bulldozing its way into Member’s territory. Hong Kong’s former Ambassador to the WTO, Stuart Harbinson, is continuing in his position as Chair of Agriculture negotiations, despite recently taking leave from government and joining the Secretariat as the Director General’s Chef de Cabinet, hence breaking the rules of neutrality. It must be recalled that Harbinson, as former Chair of the General Council before Doha, was responsible for submitting to Doha a draft declaration that did not reflect the views of developing countries. Many delegates are now wary of the same antics he may try out in his present position in Agriculture.

The illegitimate process in Doha, and the active role of a biased Secretariat led to a Declaration which endorses the possibility of launching new negotiations in investment, competition and government procurement at the Fifth Ministerial. This method of expanding the WTO agenda is unacceptable, yet it seems that this is again being used in the run-up to Cancun.

WTO agreements oblige governments to undertake serious legislative and regulatory reforms that impact domestic policies not just limited to trade. The agreements have significant political, social and economic consequences. The repercussions of the TRIPS Agreement on access to medicines is only one example. A World Bank report by Michael Finger estimates that administration costs for implementing even three of the WTO agreements costs developing countries up to $150 million/year.

Given the impact on the lives of people around the world, it is critical that final WTO decisions are a result of a consultative process that reflects public debate in each member state. Civil society condemns the illegitimate mechanism of these ‘unofficial’ and secretive meetings to manufacture a false ‘consensus’.

There is currently no political will to create a democratic system of decision-making by the most powerful WTO members who benefit from the informal system which they can control. As a result, current efforts are being systematically undermined.

We therefore call upon all WTO Members to: 1) Reject ‘exclusive’ mini-ministerial and Green Room meetings where only a select group of WTO Members are invited to discuss the WTO agenda behind closed doors.

2) Devise inclusive and transparent mechanisms to build consensus amongst its membership rather than resorting to an ‘exclusive club’ of members.

3) Demand that negotiating texts produced by the Chairpersons of each committee and drafts of Ministerial Declarations reflect the various views put forward by all parties, and not just those of more powerful members.

4) Stop the use of bilateral political and economic pressures by developed countries on other developing countries that force them into a false ‘consensus’ at the WTO at the cost of their real development concerns.

5) Create written and accountable rules of decision making in the WTO that are transparent and democratic and address day-to-day WTO negotiations, preparatory process for the Ministerial meetings and Ministerials themselves. Specifically: ? All countries should be notified of all consultations taking place, and they must be allowed to attend all meetings. The excuse of ‘efficiency’ must no longer be used to exclude the majority. ? There must be transparent and democratic procedures for the selection of Chairs of WTO committees and the exact role and mandate of the Chairs should be defined. ? Secretariat Staff must take seriously the development mandate emerging from Doha. ? Secretariat staff should not be allowed to chair WTO committees as the Secretariat is supposed to play a neutral and a purely administrative role. ? Devise an effective democratic consensus building mechanism where power politics is monitored and eliminated. This must include proper minutes of all meetings that are circulated amongst all members, inclusion of dissenting views in minutes and negotiating texts, and voting as mandated in Article IX.1 if there is no consensus.

Members invited to the Sydney Mini-Ministerial include:
Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Egypt, the European Commission, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, the US and one representative from the Caribbean.

ORGANISATIONAL SIGNATURES



ACT UP-Paris (Aids Coalition To Unleash Power)
Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), UK
Action for World Development, Australia
ActionAid Brazil
ActionAid India
ActionAid, Bangladesh
ActionAid, Pakistan
ActionAid, UK
AEFJN (African-European Faith and Justice Network), Spain
Africa Faith and Justice Network, US
Africa Initiatives, UK
Alliance for Democracy, US
Alliance of Progressive Labour (APL), Philippines
American Lands Alliance, Greece
AM-NET (APEC Monitor NGO Network), Japan
Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union, India
Antiglobalizacion PCA (Partido Communita De Aragon)
Asamblea Barrial Playa Rocha de Mar del Plata
Asia Pacific Environmental Exchanges, US
Asociacion Boliviana de la Economia Politica de la Globalizacion
ATTAC France
Australian Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, Australia
Australian Coalition for Economic Justice
AustralianEducation Union, Australia
Australian Fair Trade and InvestmentNetwork
Australian Peace Committee (South Australian Branch) Inc.
Berne Declaration, Switzerland
Bretton Woods Project, UK
Buendnis fuer Eine Welt /OeIE, Austria
BUKO Pharma-Kampagne, Germany
BUND, Friends of the Earth, Germany
Campagna pe la Reforma Della Banca Mondiale, Italy
Campana por Una Agricultura y Alimentacion Sostenible Amigos de la Tierra,Spain
Canadian Catholic Organisation for Development and Peace, Canada
Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC/CCCI), Canada
Catholic Drug Centre, Ghana
CENSA Agua Viva
Centre for Encounter andActive Non-violence, Austria
Centre for Sustainable Development (CENESTA)Iran
Centre of Concern, US
Centro Internazionale Crocevia, Italy
Christian Aid, UK
CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity), Brussels
CIEL (Centre for International Environmental Law), Europe
Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement, 11.11.11., Belgium
COCO, Foro para la ParticipacionCiudadana
Commitment for Life, United Reformed Church, UK
Concienciaccion, Spain
Consumers International – Asia PacificOffice
Corporate Europe Observatory, Netherlands
CPE (European Farmers’ Coordination), Belgium
Dachverband entwicklungspolitischer Organisationenin Karnten, Austria
DAWN Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era
DIFAM – German Institute for Medical Mission, Pharmaceutical AidDepartment, Germany
Drug Study Group, Thailand
Earthjustice, US
Earthlife Africa, Namibia
Earthwatch, Friends of the Earth, Ireland
EcoNews Africa,Kenya
Economic Justice, Justice and Witness Ministeries, United Church ofChrist, US
Economic Reform Australia
ECOPEACE Ecumenical PharmaceuticalNetwork, Kenya
EQUATIONS, India FarmFolk /CityFolk Society, Canada
FIAN(Foodfirst Information Action Network), Germany
FIELD Indonesia
FIMARC,Belgium
Focus on the Global South, Thailand, India, Philippines, Geneva
Food First, Institute for Food and Development Policy, US
Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, India
Forum Syd, Sweden
FOS (Fonds coorOntwikkelingsamenwerkug), Representative of the Region Central America andCuba, Belgium
Franciscan Washington Office for Latin America, US
Friendsof the Earth / Global 2000, Austria
Friends of the Earth, Denmark
Friendsof the Earth, Europe
Friends of the Earth, France, Les Amis de la Terre
Friends of the Earth, Japan
Friends of the Earth, Netherlands
Gender and Trade Network, US
GeneEthics Network, Australia
Germanwatch, Germany
Global Concerns Committee of Leadership Conference of Women Religious, US
Global Exchange, US
Greens /EFA Group in the European Parliament
Human Rights and Democracy Movement in Tonga
IDEMI Instituto para el DesarrolloIntegral Initiative
Colibri Institute for Economic Relocalization, France
Institute for Global Justice, Indonesia Institute
Justice Office, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, US
Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy(IATP), US
Integrated Rural Development Foundation, Philippines
International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA) International
Genderand Trade Network – Asia International
Gender and Trade Network, LatinAmerica
INZET, Association for North-South Campaigns, Netherlands
IrishCatholic Development Agency Trocaire, Ireland
Jubilee Australia
Just World Campaign, Australia
Justice /Peace and Integrity of Creation Office, US
K.U.L.U Women and Development, Denmark
La Aldea Del Sur Labour Solidarityof North Sumatra, Indonesia
Mary Seat of Wisdom Parish, Peace and JusticeMinistry, US
Medical Mission Sisters Mercy
International Justice Network –Asia Pacific Region
Mercy International Justice Network, Aotearoa New Zealand
Mercy International Justice Network, Ireland
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Mortan County Citizens for Responsible Government, US
Network for Consumer Protection, Pakistan
NGO Forum on Cambodia, Cambodia
NGO-COD (Coordinating Committee on Development), Thailand
North-SouthCommission Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalizacion
Office for WorldMission, US
Oxfam – Wereldwinkels
Palestine Solidarity Campaign, US
PaxChristi, Australia
Polaris Institute, Canada
Public Citizen, US
Public Services International Quest 2025, Australia
Rally for Peace and NuclearDisarmament, Australia R
CADE (Red Ciudadana para la Abolicion de la DeudaExterna), Malaga
REALIDAD HISPANA, Spain
Red Mexicana de Accion Frente alLibre Comercio (RMALC), Mexico
Resource Centre for People’s Development,Philippines
Safe Food Coalition, South Africa
San Diego WTO Alert, US
Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), Scotland
SEARCH Foundation, Australia
Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs of Thailand,Thailand
SEWA, Nepal
Sisters of Mercy, Latin America and the Caribbean,Peru
Sisters of the Holy Cross, Congregation Justice Committee, US
Solagral, France Solidarite, France
SOMO, Netherlands
Stop the WTO Christian Coalition
Stop MAI Coalition, Western Australia
Suedwind No(Southwind Lower), Austria
Swiss Coalition for Development Organisations,Switzerland
Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, Tanzania
The Alliance toExpose GATS, Australia
The Christian Relief and Development Association(CRDA), Ethiopia
The Diocesan Office of Justice –Peace-Integrity of Creation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, US
The Grail, Australia
The Women’s Rights Action Network, Australia
Traidcraft, UK
Transnational Institute, Netherlands
Un(der)employed People’s Movement Against Poverty, Australian National Organisation of the Unemployed Union Aid Abroad, Australia
United Evangelical Mission United Trauma Relief, UK
Volontari nel mondo - FOCSIV, Italy Washington Office on Africa, US
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, UK section
Women’sResearch and Action Group, India
World Development Movement, UK
WTO Watch
Qld Brisbane, Australia
WtowatchACT, Australia

 

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