Dispatch From Doha | The Nation


Dispatch From Doha

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About the Author

Walden Bello
Now a member of the Philippine House of Representatives representing Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party), Walden...

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A final declaration for the fourth WTO Ministerial Session was finally issued on November 14 after negotiations that extended well past the original deadline. Trade czars Robert Zoellick of the United States and Pascal Lamy of the European Union are hailing the agreement as launching a new global round of trade negotiations. Many analysts dispute this, saying that negotiations on investment and competition policy--which are are the top of the US and EU agenda--cannot be launched until after the fifth ministerial in 2003, and only after a "written consensus decision" is issued by the WTO.

Overall, however, the declaration was a defeat for the developing countries whose demand that the ministerial focus its work mainly on implementation issues connected with the previous trade round--the so-called Uruguay Round-- which received only perfunctory mention. Developing countries did win an important concession giving public health precedence over patents, which the pharmecutical industry had strongly resisted, but as a number of observers have pointed out, the declaration leaves unchanged the language of the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which could serve as the basis for future legal challenges to their efforts to override pharmaceutical patents. The European Union successfully watered down developing country demands for getting rid of agricultural export subsidies and the United States refused to accede to developing country demands that it accelerate the phaseout of its textile quotas.

Yet the developed countries' victory may well be short-term since their arm-twisting was greatly resented and resisted by the poor countries. The declaration, in fact, could only be finalized after India agreed to abstain at the last-minute, after resisting for hours. The legacy of the Doha summit may well be the continuing erosion of legitimacy of the WTO.

* * *


As the Fourth Ministerial entered its final day of intense negotiations on November 13, developed and developing countries still seemed to be locked in a stalemate on a number of key issues, including agricultural subsidies, trade-related intellectual property rights and public health, a review of anti-dumping rules, and extending WTO coverage to investment, competition policy and government procurement. The future of the WTO hangs in the balance. Members of the WTO secretariat say that the organization cannot afford another Seattle in Doha. Failure to create consensus around a Ministerial Declaration may well lead to an unraveling of the trade body.

* * *


About 100 NGO delegates staged an anti-World Trade Organization demonstration on Friday, immediately before the opening of the trade body's fourth ministerial session in Doha, Qatar. Standing on both sides of the entrance to the huge Al Dafna Hall at the Sheraton Hotel, the protesters, with tape on their mouths, held up signs saying "No Voice at the WTO," calling attention to the lack of democracy, transparency and civil society input into the organization's decision-making processes.

After over 5,000 delegates had filed in, the demonstrators started chanting "What do we want? Democracy!" An effort by Jose Bove, the French anti-McDonalds activist, to lead the demonstrators into the hall was at first repelled by Qatari security forces. A few moments later, however, the demonstrators were allowed in. Fulfilling a pledge made at an open session earlier in the day by Crown Prince Sheik Jassim bin Hamad, security forces did not arrest or detain any of the activists.

Desperate is the only word to describe the actions of the trade superpowers represented at the meeting. Tremendous pressure is being exerted on developing countries to endorse a new round of trade negotiations. The weapons include manipulation of the WTO's undemocratic system of decision-making and blunter forms of trade blackmail.


Intense Security


Massive security preparations have turned Doha, a city of over 600,000, into a high security zone, to the consternation of ordinary Qataris, many of whom claim that the United States is exaggerating the dangers of holding the conference in the Gulf city. The security arrangements have isolated the conference site and are making transportation to and from hotels an exercise in resourcefulness for many delegates.

An armed attack by an allegedly deranged Qatari gunman on a munitions base on the outskirts of Doha, used by the United States, earlier in the week has heightened the tension. Even before that incident, the office of the US Trade Representative had moved to gather representatives of US NGOs from their separate lodgings to join the US official delegation at the Ritz Carlton, which has been converted into an armed camp, with logistical connections to US warships waiting in the Gulf for possible evacuation of American delegates. There is more than enough space in the hotel, since the number of people in the official US delegation has shrunk from about 300 to fifty.

So paranoid is the US security force at the Ritz Carlton that they prevented Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland-based think tank Food First, from riding on the same bus from the hotel to the conference site after they discovered that she is an Indian citizen. She said that they also refused to give her access to US official briefings or provide her with a security phone and gas mask, which they were distributing to other members of the American entourage.

The dramatic shrinkage in the number of official delegates is not confined to the US delegation. The Canadian delegation, usually one of the biggest, is down to fifty. Says Maude Barlow, a noted critic of her government's trade policies: "People were suddenly all getting sick or disabled at the last minute, and to try to cover the cost of the government plane, they even invited me for the ride to Qatar."


Differing Priorities


The smaller number of key actors from the United States and other members of so-called "Quad" (European Union, Canada and Japan) is not, however, likely to change the dynamics of the conference.

The majority of developing countries want the Ministerial to focus on matters related to the implementation of the commitments made under the Uruguay Round. This position was laid out in a recent declaration of the Group of 77, which identified "104 implementation issues" that needed to be "meaningfully resolved, with urgency before the Fourth Ministerial Meeting and without any extraneous linkages."

Developing countries have been groaning under the weight of implementing the twenty-eight different agreements that comprised the Uruguay Round agreement, while the big trading powers have refused or been slow to implement their commitments to provide greater market access in agriculture and textiles to developing countries or cut back the massive subsidization of their agricultural interests.

The European Union and the United States, on the other hand, have put some of their differences aside--temporarily--to present a common front for a new round of trade negotiations that would focus on expanding the mandate of the WTO to cover the so-called "new issues" of investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation. Essentially, these are the same issues that formed their common agenda of global economic liberalization prior to the disastrous WTO Ministerial in December 1999. Learning from Seattle, the EU and United States have de-emphasized their disagreement on agricultural trade issues, and the United States apparently does not intend to make the linkage between trade and labor standards--a key point of conflict with developing countries in Seattle (and, for different reasons, also an issue of great concern to US labor unions)--an issue in Doha.

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