DOHA, November 10 — As I headed out of my heavily guarded hotel this morning, which is housing the U.S. delegation, a Qatari security official stopped me. He said, "You were protesting yesterday. I saw you on the television. Your protest was very important to let others know that not everyone is happy with the WTO."
This sentiment has been echoed several times by Qatari officials and cab drivers as well as the local and national media present here. The proceedings of the second day at the Ministerial make the cause of this sentiment obvious.
The US Trade Representative Office organized a briefing for the US NGOs this morning. After yesterday’s incident, where they discovered much to their chagrin, that I, an Indian national, was representing a U.S. NGO and housed at the same hotel, the
invitation to the briefing read: Please bring your NGO credential and your U.S. passport for entry. I was ready for a conflict if I was stopped given I am representing a U.S. group that represents a larger constituency than the USTR’s small corporate lobby. I was not stopped this time.
Nao Matsukata, representative of the USTR, started the briefing by praising Ambassador Zoellick’s efforts to understand the concerns of the Third World countries through bilateral meetings before the Doha meetings. He claimed that the U.S. shared the same objectives of market access as the developing nations and therefore had much in common.
What Mr. Matsukata failed to mention was that while Mr. Zoellick has been trying to negotiate deals with developing nations, he is not empowered to make binding commitments on behalf of the U.S. Article I-8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress, the Legislative Branch, exclusive authority over setting the terms of trade agreements. The President and the Trade Representative do not have any such authority unless Congress delegates such power to them.
Several NGO representatives spent the day advising Third World delegates that Congress has not only refused to delegate trade authority to the Bush administration through Fast Track, but also on November 6, Congress passed a resolution forbidding
USTR’s Zoellick from agreeing to anti-dumping language in the Harbinson text. The message of this lobbying was clear: Please don’t compromise your country’s interests in exchange for empty promises.
The developing nations are beginning to see the hollowness of promises of transparency and accountability at Doha. The Green Room process of Seattle, which led to protests inside the meetings to strengthen the protests outside, has taken a new form and shape here. The parallel track process being followed is a plenary where every country has 5 minutes to make a statement. The other track focuses on six issues: Agriculture, Implementation, Environment, Rules, Singapore Issues (Competition and Investment) and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The representatives have 3 minutes to intervene. Then a facilitator (also
called Friend of the Chair, already appointed through the WTO Secretariat) will unilaterally follow up with countries most concerned with the text. These facilitators belong to the following countries:
Rules- facilitator-South Africa
These facilitators are not neutral. For example, much to the disappointment of countries like India and Brazil, a delegate from Mexico facilitates TRIPS while it also sides with the U.S. and Switzerland’s position on Intellectual Property Rights. The Green Room has now shrunk into a Green Person and reflects a process which clearly discriminates against developing countries.
In the afternoon Geneva-based South Center, a permanent intergovernmental organization of the developing countries, organized a briefing on the lack of democratic process in the WTO. Speaking at the briefing, the Tanzanian Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr. Iddi Simba, who is also representing the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) said, "We have come to Doha to launch a development agenda. Our attitude to new issues such as investment and competition is that we do not have the capacity to negotiate. Even if our arms are twisted, we cannot. The opt-in and opt-out option is totally unacceptable. We will oppose it."
The pressure on Third World countries by the powerful trading nations and threats related to aid, debt relief, and being branded as deal breakers responsible for furthering global recession is immense. This pressure is being countered by growing protests around the world that support the Third World concerns regarding the impact of trade rules on poverty and sustainable development.
It is obvious that the WTO can run, but can’t hide. The global civil society whether present in Doha or protesting in the streets of Delhi, Manila, or San Francisco is determined that our struggle today is the start of the process and not the end.
* Anuradha Mittal, Co-Director of Food First, is in Doha, Qatar attending the WTO Ministerial Conference and representing the voices of people from developing nations.