The Eleventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO (MC11) has an agenda full of vital interests for the future of a large part of the world population, with topics such as agriculture, electronic commerce, fishing and, in general, “development”.
In all these areas there are conflicting interests, exporters against food importers in the agricultural case (and developing country exporters against agricultural subsidies from many powerful economies), transnationals against states in the case of electronic commerce, and poor countries against rich countries around “development” .
As the interests at stake are so many and the old practice of negotiating in secret is discredited, the Director General of the WTO, the Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, told the members in Geneva before the MC11 that:
“In considering the process for the meeting, clearly openness, transparency and inclusiveness will be important.” He added that the “facilitators” (trade ministers of various countries handpicked by Azevedo and Susana Malcorra, president of the meeting) “will aim to hold open meetings. All members who want to participate will have a chance to do so.”
Thus, the official program of the three days conference provides “plenaries” where ministers will make their statements (usually before an empty audience) from 10 in the morning and during the whole day. This is the public part of the conference, transmitted by webcast, a boring series of reading pre-prepared speeches from more than one hundred countries. Simultaneously, there will be consecutive meetings of one hour each: Agriculture, Services and Development on Monday morning. E-commerce and fishing on Monday afternoon and again “development” on Tuesday at 9 in the morning, because there are so many who want to participate in that debate.
At eight o’clock on Monday night (and eventually on the following nights) there will be “informal meetings” (behind closed doors) of the heads of delegation (in general the ministers).
These meetings, according to Azevedo, “will be a chance for facilitators to report back to everyone on their work. And they will be an opportunity for every minister to participate on every issue and assess progress achieved in the different areas. Even if you haven’t attended a meeting on a particular issue, you will have a chance to make your views heard at the HoDs”.
Azevedo promised that “I will be holding consultations in Buenos Aires, to help the process where I can. But let me stress that while I will hold consultations where needed, I will not convene closed-door negotiating meetings”.
In past conferences the really controversial topics were negotiated in the so-called “green rooms,” usually hotel rooms, outside the official venue of the conference, among invited ministers without anyone knowing in advance the agenda or who would be the ones chosen to negotiate agreements that the plenary should then accept without having been art or a part.
However, in the “facilitated sessions” of one hour, the delegatios have been asked to make speeches of 3 minutes each on a particular issue. This means that while many will be heard, negotiations will not occur in the facilitated sessions.
Diplomatic sources confided that the plan to reach some agreement in the MC11 is to make consultations in Green Room formats every night, in principle between 10 pm and midnight, but possibly extending until dawn if there is no white smoke. It is not known who will preside over these meetings of the Green Room, which countries will be able to participate in these negotiations, nor who will select these countries.
This is an obvious breach of the promises that Azevedo made and it generates the conditions for the surrendering of the interests of the constituencies of the negotiators in secret sessions with secret participants who are not accountable to anyone. Finally, on Wednesday the 13th Chairwoman Malcorra might present at the last plenary a “consensual” text under the threat of “take it or … be held as responsible for the failure of the Conference”.
* By: José Pedro Ramírez.
Also available in: Spanish