[DEBATE] : WTO Process - Irregularities at WTO
Riaz K Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Wed Feb 22 06:59:46 GMT 2006
Cuba and Venezuala have made a formal submission that may have resonance
throughout the continent but for the sheer weight of the bullying
tactics used against our countries...
9 February 2006
Trade Negotiations Committee
Irregularities identified in the negotiation and decision making process
at the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference
Communication from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Cuba
The following communication, dated 7 February 2006, is being circulated
at the request of the Delegations of the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela and Cuba.
The decision-making process at the WTO, particularly during the
ministerial conferences, has become increasingly complex as Members, ten
years after the implementation of the Agreements resulting from the
Uruguay Round, have had to face the good and bad decisions of the
commitments made in the Organization, which have had a direct impact on
the implementation or disarticulation of economic, trade and social
policies due to their binding nature. This impact has been greater in
It should be noted that there is a gap of almost two years between one
ministerial conference and the next, in which no progress or substantive
agreements are made with regard to the negotiations and their texts.
However, it is expected that in a few weeks or days prior to or during
the ministerial conference an agreement will be reached concerning
documents which are tens of pages long. This is particularly difficult
and puts countries with small delegations at a negotiating disadvantage,
as they lack sufficient capacity to react to the large amount of
documents circulated and meetings convened.
Article IX of the Marrakesh Agreement governs the formal
decision-making in the Organization. The Regulation of Meetings of WTO
Bodies (July 1997), including the ministerial conference, also refers to
this Article, as well as the other provisions concerning the
decision-making of said agreement.
However, nowhere in any of its five paragraphs or in any other WTO
provision, is it established how the process for final adoption of
decisions or the exchange of information and communication between
Members and the Secretariat shall be carried out, nor is there any
information regarding the limits of action of the latter. There are,
however, agreed principles such as transparency, non-exclusive
participation of all Members, as well as the need to guarantee respect
for what has been concerted, which cannot be ignored.
In 2000 and 2002, internal transparency-related issues and effective
participation of Members in the WTO decision-making, were the focus of
the General Council’s discussions for months. Therefore, this is not
the first time that legitimate concerns that have emerged, in
particular, after a Ministerial Conference is held, have been addressed.
But, in spite of the work done, we have not been able to prevent some
of these irregularities from being retaken and, even, some new ones from
During the Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, China, from 13 to 18
December 2005, and even during the preparatory process that began in
November in Geneva, a number of procedures were implemented to seek
consensus, which did not have the support of all Members, and in many
cases received the manifest disagreement of a majority of developing
countries. However, with the support of some Members, they were imposed
by decision of the Secretariat, which thus exceeds its functions.
These actions which involve the taking of important decisions are
extremely worrying, and thus it is necessary that the General Council
realize that they are undermining the WTO’s own credibility. Account
must be taken of the fact that any decision adopted during Ministerial
Conferences, including procedures to arrive at consensus among Members
(and not only in case of substantive matters per se), will eventually
have an impact on the development policies of the countries, hence its
extreme sensitivity and the need to avoid in future the repetition of
processes or procedures that did not have due consensus because they
were not generally accepted by the members.
On this basis, the process of adoption of the Ministerial Declaration
in Hong Kong can be considered to have been an unfavorable exercise to
maintain confidence in the WTO at any cost and to enable the assertion
that this Organization can guarantee conditions that translate into
tangible and sustainable economic results for developing countries.
The irregularities identified
During the preparatory process in Geneva, in particular, during the
last phase, the following irregularities were identified:
The delayed submission of the first draft Ministerial Declaration (26
November) leaving little time before the beginning of the conference.
This brought about other negative actions that are listed below.
The imposition of a non-consensus negotiating text (Annex C on Services)
that was prepared by the Chair of the negotiating body, with the
sustained rejection of a significant amount of Members. This took shape
with the delay in the introduction of brackets and the subsequent
removal of them, without having the positive consensus of all Members.
The sudden removal, without consultation and just a few days into the
Conference, of the cover note that was part of the draft Ministerial
Declaration which made clear, upon insistence of many delegations, that
the annexes did not have consensus among the Members.
The introduction, for the first time, of reports by Chairs of the
negotiating bodies as an integral part of the text of the Ministerial
Declaration which, in fact, should contain texts agreed on by the Members
During the negotiating process in Hong Kong, China, the following
irregularities were identified:
The holding of only two formal meetings (opening and closing sessions)
in the entire Conference to formally adopt the decisions, whose format
was designed to prevent delegations from taking the floor and speaking
extensively on the matters subject to approval, due to the fact that the
seating in the halls was not arranged with delegations in mind and no
microphones were available. The other meetings were informal, and
therefore, there is no record of the discussions that took place
therein, which is something that has had a crucial impact on the outcome
of the Ministerial Conference. Furthermore, what was discussed in these
consultations was not always promptly put forth to all Members for their
The reoccurrence of “Green Rooms”, which were given the name of
“Chairman’s Consultative Groups”, and which were mechanisms that helped
to present positions agreed by a few countries and which generally
attempted to impose themselves on the non-participating majority. It
must be noted that the groups of countries with small delegations see
their reaction capacity diminished before alternative proposals in so
little time. Furthermore, the lack of a record of the discussions in
these limited transparency.
The granting of occasionally unlimited power to the facilitators. There
were issues in which an open meeting to all Members was never held, not
even to inform of the modifications of the text of the Ministerial
Declaration on the basis of their interactions with some delegations.
On other occasions the substantive intervention of the countries was
restrained during these open informal consultations, arguing that there
was no consensus and it was necessary for delegations to first come to
an agreement on the issues of divergence.
The lack of attention to some proposals by important groups of
developing members, which were not considered at all, nor negotiated
with them; simply, predetermined texts were imposed.
The WTO is responsible for always guaranteeing a transparent and
reliable decision-making process, whatever these decisions may be, but
particularly those deriving from a Ministerial Conference whose results
have a particular impact on the membership and the future work for a
given period of time. The situations described above must be avoided at
all cost in the future as they severely undermine the credibility of the
agreements and, thus, jeopardize the Organization itself.
In addition, we consider that the above-mentioned irregularities
attempt against the full realization of the development dimension of the
Doha Work Programme, an immensely relevant issue for developing
countries which, as a matter of fact, make up the majority of members in
Consequently, it is advisable to promote an open discussion on these
issues for the General Council to make a decision, in light of the
experience of the preparatory process and the very holding of the Sixth
Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, as well as the irregularities
already analyzed from preceding Ministerial Conferences, in order to
prevent this type of actions from being retaken during future
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