Apr 23, 2009

Dinner diplomacy at WTO, and this time it involves NGOs

The news from Geneva is disturbing. If you read Meena Raman's dispatch below, you will understand what I mean.

I am not surprised at the doings and undoings of Mr Pascal Lamy. As WTO director general he has already inflicted a lot of damage to developing country farmers. He job has been to unabashedly promote the commercial interest of the agribusiness giants, and he has done it quite effectively using all the tricks of the trade. But what worries me is the role of some of the big NGOs. How can some of them be so callous and indifferent to the ground realities, and call for an early completion of an unjust Doha round? How can they be rallying around Lamy, and suggest extending the reach of WTO to include even climate change?

You are right Meena. Those of us who subscribe to the thinking of Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) have a tough job on our hands. We have to come back with renewed vigour and step up our campaign. We have to fight for equity, justice and for ensuring that our world is not put up for sale.

And that reminds me of a story that needs to be told once again. It tells you clearly as to what Lamy has been trying to push for all these years. As a former EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, had made the ‘hidden’ intentions abundantly clear during his quick visit to India soon after the Doha Ministerial. “Who gave you the impression that we are going to reduce agriculture subsidies? Let me make it clear that EU will not be reducing farm subsidies in the years to come except for what has been agreed upon. I am committed to keep my seven million farmers on the farm,” he told a group of civil society representatives. “And how will India gain if I reduce subsidies as a result of which the number of farmers in Europe climbs down to three million?” he asked.

When asked how will India protect the livelihood of its 600 million farmers if EU does not eliminate farm subsidies, he quipped: “That’s for your government to decide”.

You may like to revisit one of my articles about Pascal Lamy at your leisure

I now bring you Meena's dispatch (April 22, 2009) from Geneva. This has been taken from the WTO-INTL list. This is an important insight into the happenings at WTO, and is a must read for all those who have been working on trade related issues.

Dear friends,

Pascal Lamy, the DG of WTO met invited ngos to a dinner cum meeting last night. He is the only candidate for the next term as WTO DG. He is guaging ideas for setting his 'vision' for the WTO, which needless to say, is far from what some of us envision!

In any case, many NGOs, largerly Geneva-based and more northern, as well as the International Chamber of Commerce were present. We were there too. As you can imagine, many of the NGOs and the ICC wanted a quick conclusion of the Doha Round; some wanted the WTO to widen its scope to addressing climate change, the food crisis as well as financial and economic crisis - i.e. to be more relevant - not in the sense that the how the WTO policies and rules have contributed to the crises but rather, how the WTO can help with these issues! Some NGOs wanted the WTO to have a better outreach and work better in the capitals and local levels to actual promote the WTO and the liberalisation agenda!

Why do we bring this to your attention? Clearly to illustrate the relevance of OWINFS in WTO related work. Our perspectives and thinking about the WTO still appear to be sidelined, even among NGO circles. Hence the need for greater vigour and action from our end.

In our intervention, we raised the issue of the transparency of the WTO, the green rooms, and the mini-ministerials in the decision-making process. We reminded Lamy about a memo that many of us in OWINFS submitted to Supachai previously about these issues. Lamy had not seen it and did say that if we had another memo, we can send it to him. We also asked for more NGO access in observing the negotiations.

He however had a response to our views and said as follows -

It is impossible to reach consensus in a large organisation of member states in the WTO without the need for the 3 concentric circle process of :

1. the G7 process - once agreement is reached here then next is the larger
2. green room and then finally the
3. General Council. He maintained and insisted that this was a good process and the only way to go. So, there will be no change in this.

He said every country was familiar with the green room and it was a transparent process in the sense that everyone knows it happens and they know who speaks for the various groupings who are present.

On other issues -

On financial services liberalisation under the GATS, he said that it is a mistake to say that this has led to deregulation, adding that when countries open up their services, it is up to them to regulate or not. So, GATS in relation to financial services is not a problem. GATS is about trade opening and not deregulation.

On the NAMA proposals on the table, when the ITUC raised the effects on job losses, Lamy said that this was not true. The NAMA proposals would actually lead to millions of jobs being created - not lost. There could be some losses, but on balance, more jobs are created than lost.

On FTAs, he said that it would be good to have all preferential agreements be subject to MFN - meaning - all countries get same benefits as under the various FTAs! This implies WTO-plus approach and the end to south-south cooperation.

On the Doha Round, the next step would be for the engagement of the US when they are politically ready to do so.

Lamy did not provide an opportunity for rebuttal. This is in summary the main issues as we saw it.

It clearly shows the need for further work in rolling back the WTO and the agenda ahead. Our analysis and perpectives are more relevant now than ever in exposing the role of the WTO in promoting the neoliberal and out-moded Washington consensus model as we reinvent a new world.

From Sanya and Meena

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