Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lamy Squares Off With NGOs before the Ministerial Conference

Lamy, NGOs in open battle before Hong Kong Ministerial

GENEVA, Nov 30 (KUNA) -- Trade unions and civil society organizations presented a detailed letter to World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy on Wednesday explaining how the WTO services negotiations have been undemocratic and undermining the consensus mode of decision-making.

The letter was in response to a 17 November letter from Lamy that claimed NGOs had misinterpreted the negotiating process.

Civil society took Lamy to task on his claim that the NGO critique was based on a "misunderstanding of services talks." In a point by point critique of Lamy's letter, the organizations rebuffed Lamy's arguments.

They pointed out that many developing countries submitted objections to elements of the services text, but those objections were repeatedly ignored by the Chair of the Services negotiations, Mexican Ambassador Fernando de Mateo.

The letter cited statements from WTO members of ASEAN (Brunei Darusalam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia) and the African Group, Jamaica and Barbados among others that the Services negotiating text did not reflect their concerns.

They further reiterated that the Chair of the Services talks had indeed implied that there needed to be consensus by all WTO members to remove items from the negotiating text, so-called reverse consensus.They cited informal discussions held amongst Services negotiators on October 17-18 to substantiate their claims.

Representative of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Shefali Sharma told reporters in Geneva that it was impossible to come to a fair agreement with bad process.

"The issues in the services negotiations and the current Hong Kong text are very serious - particularly for developing countries. The WTO continues to evade international norms for negotiations, even as we are just days away from the sixth Ministerial. We remain concerned that the new approach to the draft text is further exacerbating problems of legitimacy in the WTO," added Sharma.

Assistant General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI) Mike Waghorne stressed that the current draft services text represented a threat to tens of thousands of public sector workers around the world.

"We fully sympathize with developing countries that say that the whole process of drafting the services text for Hong Kong has set aside their concerns about their own services development in the interests of multinational services companies from the North," added Waghorne.

Focus on the Global South's Associate Researcher Aileen Kwa said it was common practice that Chairs abuse their power in the WTO and put forward texts that predominantly contained the positions of the powerful WTO Members, the US and the EU.

Kwa added that the positions and voices of a large majority of the developing world were wiped off the slate and these texts were then presented to Ministers in a secret "Green Room" meetings for endorsement. At the same time, countries were warned by the powerful, not to dissent.

"This makes a mockery of the 'bottom-up' negotiating process Lamy claims he is now putting in place. The process in the Services Council could not be more top-down," stressed Kwa.

Concerning Doha Development Round, Sharma siad that the current deal has been a bad offer for the developing world and rejecting it in the Hong Kong ministerial would be a success for the peoples of the world.

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