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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Seattle Aftermath

Africa: Seattle Aftermath
Date distributed (ymd): 991206
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:

This posting contains statements from the Third World Network on the "time-out" taken from trade negotiations with the breakdown of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Geneva, and the statement issued by African ministers just before the talks were suspended. While press attention seemed to focus primarily on the discontent with the organization coming from trade unionists, environmentalists and other U.S. groups, representatives of developing countries inside the meeting played a decisive role in stopping a steamrollered conference declaration.

Aside from the fundamental shared concern for transparency and equity, developing country non-governmental organizations, joined on some isues by developing country governments, stressed a different range of issues than those receiving most attention from protesters and the media. Among them were access to developed country markets and the negative impact of previous intellectual property rights agreements on health and agriculture.

Negotiations will resume in January in Geneva, where developing countries will continue handicapped by lack of capacity to cover a sufficiently wide range of technical negotiating venues.

Statements by African as well as other government ministers represented in Seattle can be found at:

In addition to the Third World Network site noted below, additional sources for concerns from non-governmental networks in both the North and the South include:

International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

World Trade Organization Watch

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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News from Seattle

by Martin Khor
Third World Network (Third World Network is a network of NGOs involved in development and environment issues in developing countries)

4 Dec 1999

Please visit our TWN website for more up-to-date news and analyses on the WTO and the Seattle Conference.

Dear friends and colleagues,

3 Dec was a very dramatic day. It was the last day of the WTO Conference.

Until afternoon it seemed there would be a Declaration and that developing countries would be stampeded into agreeing to it, with a new Round of new issues etc.

Almost all Third World delegations were very upset by their marginalisation, by not being invited in the small group meetings that do the real negotiations.

Third World Network issued a statement and held a press conference in the Media Room at about 5 pm. The statement expressed outrage at the way developing countries were being treated, and called for the Seattle talks to be adjourned and that the General Council in Geneva be authorised to do follow up work instead.

This Statement is attached below.

By about 6pm it became clear that the talks would fail and there would not be a Declaration nor a new round. It was thought that a 2 or 4 page procedural statement would be issued instead.

However even that was not forthcoming. At a closing plenary session, the USTR Charlene Barshevsky announced the talks had been suspended and that the Director General of WTO would be responsible for further consultations later on.

Both she and Pascal lamy (EC Trade Commissioner) said that the breakdown was largely caused by the fact that the old system of WTO's decision-making (in small groups etc) was no longer adequate to satisfy the demands of transparency of the large numbers of members from developing countries. They thus admitted that the lack of transparency and participation by developing countries had given rise to anger and that it would not have been possible to push through a declaration even if the US and EU and other developed countries had reached agreement among themselves.

The old ways of the WTO must now be changed. But it is far from clear that such reforms will come. The way the meeting in Seattle was organised was shameful. Change has been promised before (eg during the closing of the Singapore Ministerial in 1996) but the manipulative ways have worsened to the lowest point in Seattle. Will reforms really come? One has to be skeptical at this moment.

Most developing country delegations were quite happy with this result as they had been preparing to possible reject any Draft Declaration that may have been presented to them for "consensus." Most countries wanted to avoid a new round.

The NGOs were very happy as they had campaigned against a new Round. At Seattle, there were also several Third World NGOs that had been doing advocacy work with their governments.

Work will probably resume in the WTO in Geneva in January.

Most delegations and NGOs are leaving Seattle on 4 or 5 December.

Meanwhile the public protests are still continuing in some parts of Seattle.

All in all, a very remarkable week in Seattle.

With best wishes,

Martin Khor

Below is the TWN Statement presesnted at a media conference at about 5pm on 3 December.

Third World Network
Statement on the WTO Process: 3 Dec 1999

No Legitimacy or Credibility in Seattle Process and Results

Third World Groups Denounce Undemocratic and Bullying Tactics at Seattle

NGOs from developing countries are shocked and outraged at the way the WTO and the organisers have treated the developing country Members of the WTO at the Seattle Ministerial.

What has been going on in Seattle is a scandal. Developing countries that form more than two-thirds of the membership of WTO are being coerced and stampeded by the major powers, especially the host country the US, to agree to a Declaration to which they were given very little opportunity to draft or to consider.

Most of the important negotiations have taken place in "green room" meetings where only a few countries are invited. Most of the developing country Members of the WTO have not been able to participate. Even if a country is invited to a meeting on a particular issue, it may not be a participant in other issues. Many developing countries were not invited to any meeting on any issue at all.

As a result most Ministers have been insulted by their not being able to take part in decisions that seriously affect their countries and people. Worse, they have had little chance to even know what is being discussed, by whom or where. Nor what the results of these discussions were.

Also, the programme has been so crammed and tight that when the final draft Declaration is produced, Ministers and officials would hardly have any time at all to consider its contents.

To expect them to "join in the consensus" through the argument that otherwise the Ministerial Conference would be deemed a failure, is to impose a kind of blackmail.

What has gone on in Seattle is a shameful way of conducting a meeting, let alone such an important Ministerial Conference.

To further attempt to produce any substantive conclusion or any Declaration now would destroy any little legitimacy or credibility that the WTO has. The public in every country will reject any Declaration or outcome arising from this manipulative process.

In this situation, we suggest that the Ministers take a procedural decision to adjourn the Conference and remit all the texts before it to the General Council in Geneva. The General Council should exercise its responsibilities and hold consultations on how to proceed further, and take appropriate decisions in accordance with its powers and responsibilities under the Marrakesh Agreement.

Martin Khor Director

African Trade Ministers' Statement

In a statement [on December 2, before the suspension of talks was announced], the Trade Ministers of the Member-states of the Organization of African Unity/African Economic Community (OAU/AEC) said:

"We wish to express out disappointment and disagreement with the way in which negotiations are being conducted at this Third WTO Ministerial Conference.

"There is no transparency in the proceedings and African countries are being marginalised and generally excluded on issues of vital importance for our peoples and their future. We are particularly concerned over the stated intentions to produce a ministerial text at any cost including at the cost of procedures designed to secure participation and consensus.

"We reject the approach that is being employed and we must point out that under the present circumstances, we will not be able to join the consensus required to meet the objectives of the Ministerial Conference. We therefore expect that our concerns as consistently articulated by African countries in separate statements to be adequately addressed.

"We therefore urge the chairperson of the conference to address the concerns expressed by many members to ensure that we reach consensus required to meet the objectives of the Ministerial Conference."

A similar statement was also issued by the GRULAC (Spanish acronym for Latin American and Caribbean group of countries)

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen international policy debates around African issues, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.