150 CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS DENOUNCE SYDNEY WTO MINI-MINISTERIAL AS ILLEGITIMATE AND ANTI-DEMOCRATIC

November 14, 2002

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
Focus on the Global South
+41 079 371 3774
Geneva Shefali Sharma
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Geneva.
ssharma@iatp.org
+41 227 890 724
Alexandra Wandel
Friends of the Earth Europe, Brussels.
+49 172 748 3953

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

  1. ACT UP-Paris (Aids Coalition To Unleash Power)
  2. Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), UK
  3. Action for World Development, Australia
  4. ActionAid Brazil
  5. ActionAid India
  6. ActionAid, Bangladesh
  7. ActionAid, Pakistan
  8. ActionAid, UK
  9. AEFJN (African-European Faith and Justice Network), Spain
  10. Africa Faith and Justice Network, US
  11. Africa Initiatives, UK
  12. Alliance for Democracy, US
  13. Alliance of Progressive Labour (APL), Philippines
  14. American Lands Alliance, Greece
  15. AM-NET (APEC Monitor NGO Network), Japan
  16. Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union, India
  17. Antiglobalizacion PCA (Partido Communita De Aragon)
  18. Asamblea Barrial Playa Rocha de Mar del Plata
  19. Asia Pacific Environmental Exchanges, US
  20. Asociacion Boliviana de la Economia Politica de la Globalizacion
  21. ATTAC France
  22. Australian Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs
  23. Australian Coalition for Economic Justice
  24. Australian Education Union
  25. Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network
  26. Australian Peace Committee (South Australian Branch) Inc.
  27. Berne Declaration, Switzerland
  28. Bretton Woods Project, UK
  29. Buendnis fuer Eine Welt /OeIE, Austria
  30. BUKO Pharma-Kampagne, Germany
  31. BUN Friends of the Earth, Germany
  32. Campagna pe la Reforma Della Banca Mondiale, Italy
  33. Campana por Una Agricultura y Alimentacion Sostenible Amigos dela Tierra, Spain
  34. Canadian Catholic Organisation for Development and Peace, Canada
  35. Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC/CCCI)
  36. Canada Catholic Drug Centre, Ghana
  37. CENSA Agua Viva Centre for Encounter and Active Non-violence, Austria
  38. Centre for Sustainable Development (CENESTA), Iran
  39. Centre of Concern, US
  40. Centro Internazionale Crocevia, Italy
  41. Christian Aid, UK
  42. CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity), Brussels
  43. CIEL (Centre for International Environmental Law), Europe
  44. Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement, 11.11.11., Belgium
  45. COCO, Foro para la Participacion Ciudadana
  46. Commitment for Life, United Reformed Church, UK
  47. Concienciaccion, Spain
  48. Consumers International ­ Asia Pacific Office
  49. Corporate Europe Observatory, Netherlands
  50. CPE (European Farmers’ Coordination), Belgium
  51. Dachverband entwicklungspolitischer Organisationen in Karnten, Austria
  52. DAWN Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era
  53. DIFAM ­ German Institute for Medical Mission, Pharmaceutical Aid Department, Germany
  54. Drug Study Group, Thailand
  55. Earthjustice, US Earthlife Africa, Namibia
  56. Earthwatch, Friends of the Earth, Ireland
  57. EcoNews Africa, Kenya
  58. Economic Justice, Justice and Witness Ministeries, United Church of Christ, US
  59. Economic Reform Australia
  60. ECOPEACE Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network, Kenya
  61. EQUATIONS, India FarmFolk /CityFolk Society, Canada FIAN (Foodfirst Information Action Network), Germany FIELD Indonesia FIMARC, Belgium
  62. Focus on the Global South, Thailand, India, Philippines, Geneva
  63. Food First, Institute for Food and Development Policy, US
  64. Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, India
  65. Forum Syd, Sweden FOS (Fonds coor Ontwikkelingsamenwerkug), Representative of the Region Central America and Cuba, Belgium
  66. Franciscan Washington Office for Latin America, US
  67. Friends of the Earth / Global 2000, Austria
  68. Friends of the Earth, Denmark
  69. Friends of the Earth, Europe
  70. Friends of the Earth, France, Les Amis de la Terre
  71. Friends of the Earth, Japan
  72. Friends of the Earth, Netherlands
  73. Gender and Trade Network, US
  74. GeneEthics Network, Australia
  75. Germanwatch, Germany
  76. Global Concerns Committee of Leadership Conference of Women Religious, US
  77. Global Exchange, US
  78. Greens /EFA Group in the European Parliament
  79. Human Rights and Democracy Movement in Tonga
  80. IDEMI Instituto para el Desarrollo Integral Initiative Colibri
  81. Institute for Economic Relocalization, France
  82. Institute for Global Justice, Indonesia
  83. Institute Justice Office, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, US
  84. Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), US
  85. Integrated Rural Development Foundation, Philippines
  86. International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA)
  87. International Gender and Trade Network ­ Asia
  88. International Gender and Trade Network, Latin America
  89. INZET, Association for North-South Campaigns, Netherlands
  90. Irish Catholic Development Agency Trocaire, Ireland
  91. Jubilee Australia
  92. Just World Campaign, Australia
  93. Justice /Peace and Integrity of Creation Office, US
  94. K.U.L.U Women and Development, Denmark
  95. La Aldea Del Sur Labour Solidarity of North Sumatra, Indonesia
  96. Mary Seat of Wisdom Parish, Peace and Justice Ministry, US
  97. Medical Mission Sisters
  98. Mercy International Justice Network ­ Asia Pacific Region
  99. Mercy International Justice Network, Aotearoa New Zealand
  100. Mercy International Justice Network, Ireland
  101. Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Mortan County Citizens for Responsible Government, US
  102. Network for Consumer Protection, Pakistan
  103. NGO Forum on Cambodia, Cambodia
  104. NGO-COD (Coordinating Committee on Development), Thailand
  105. North-South Commission
  106. Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalizacion
  107. Office for World Mission, US
  108. Oxfam ­ Wereldwinkels
  109. Palestine Solidarity Campaign, US
  110. Pax Christi, Australia
  111. Polaris Institute, Canada
  112. Public Citizen, US
  113. Public Services International Quest 2025, Australia
  114. Rally for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, Australia
  115. RCADE (Red Ciudadana para la Abolicion de la Deuda Externa), Malaga
  116. REALIDAD HISPANA, Spain
  117. Red Mexicana de Accion Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC), Mexico
  118. Resource Centre for People’s Development, Philippines
  119. Safe Food Coalition, South Africa
  120. San Diego WTO Alert, US
  121. Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), Scotland
  122. SEARCH Foundation, Australia
  123. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Thailand
  124. SEWA, Nepal
  125. Sisters of Mercy, Latin America and the Caribbean, Peru
  126. Sisters of the Holy Cross, Congregation Justice Committee, US
  127. Solagral, France
  128. Solidarite, France
  129. SOMO, Netherlands
  130. Stop the WTO Christian Coalition
  131. StopMAI Coalition, Western Australia
  132. Suedwind No (Southwind Lower), Austria
  133. Swiss Coalition for Development Organisations, Switzerland
  134. Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, Tanzania
  135. The Alliance to Expose GATS, Australia
  136. The Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA), Ethiopia
  137. The Diocesan Office of Justice­Peace-Integrity of Creation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, US The Grail, Australia
  138. The Women’s Rights Action Network, Australia
  139. Traidcraft, UK Transnational Institute, Netherlands
  140. Un(der)employed People’s Movement Against Poverty
  141. Australian National Organisation of the Unemployed
  142. Union Aid Abroad, Australia
  143. United Evangelical Mission United Trauma Relief, UK
  144. Volontari nel mondo - FOCSIV, Italy
  145. Washington Office on Africa, US
  146. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, UK section
  147. Women’s Research and Action Group, India
  148. World Development Movement, UK
  149. WTO Watch Qld Brisbane, Australia
  150. WtowatchACT, Australia