Undercover in Qatar
Jubilant corporate lobbyists hailed the outcome of the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Doha, Qatar as a victory for` free trade. After a long campaign for a new round of negotiations to speed up global trade and investment liberalisation, the EU and US finally got more or less the result they had been aiming for. Business had a heavy presence behind the scenes in Doha, but remained uncharacteristically invisible. With Northern government delegations faithfully promoting the corporate agenda, there was no reason for business to flex its muscles in public.
s the dust settles after the Qatar Ministerial, the battle over how to interpret the complex wording of the Ministerial Declaration is just beginning. In the second part of the November 9-14 conference (which ran over by a further 24 hours), negotiations permanently seemed on the verge of collapse due to North-South conflicts. The final text is loaded with carefully worded compromises, each of which raises questions about what exactly will be negotiated when talks start in January 2002. While giving minor concessions to Southern governments, the EU and US booked major successes in their offensive pro-liberalisation agenda.
The negotiating agenda is less ambitious than the 'Millennium Round', the EU's controversial goal since 1996, but nonetheless a round was launched in Doha. Parallel negotiations will take place on market access for virtually all sectors - from services through agriculture and industrial products. The talks also will include issues like the status of Multilateral Environmental Agreements as well as liberalisation of 'environmental services'. All issues under negotiation will be treated as a 'single undertaking', to be completed by 2005. The talks will be supervised and coordinated by a newly established Trade Negotiations Committee. The main controversy is over new issues which the EU wants to bring into the latest WTO round. The most important of these are investment, government procurement and competition policy. Through negotiations on these new issues, the EU wants to get rid of restrictions on EU-based corporations operating in Southern countries, the same obstacles which the doomed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was intended to overcome.
In the final phase of the Doha Ministerial, the EU managed to get these new issues added to the negotiating agenda in the draft Ministerial Declaration. A number of Southern governments protested this energetically, in fact India even threatened to walk out of the conference. Only after being offered a 'Chairman's Note' which postpones the decision, did India accept the Ministerial Declaration. The Chairman's Note gives governments a veto right when the question comes up again at the next WTO Ministerial Meeting, in Autumn 2003. The EU, however, claims that the launch of negotiations on the new issues is not up for discussion and that the Fifth Ministerial is only to decide on the modalities of negotiations.
Unsurprisingly, corporate lobby groups were pleased with the Doha compromise. "Years of deadlock have finally been broken and vital international negotiations can now move forward," said Franklin J. Vargo, Vice- President of the US National Association of Manufacturers. "We've won the free-trade argument with the rest of the world," claimed Vargo, who was a US trade negotiator during the Clinton administration. Less gloating, but equally satisfied reactions came from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the European employers lobby UNICE, its Japanese counterpart Keidanren, and many other corporate lobby groups. In the run-up to Doha, many of these groups had scaled down their ambitions somewhat, prioritising the launch of the new round itself, over the exact content and range of issues included. Also during the crucial phase of the Doha talks, industry groupings European Services Forum (ESF) and UNICE told the European Commission that launching a new round was more important than pushing the controversial new issues. However, in their official reaction UNICE and ESF hypocritically claim to be, "disappointed by the postponement of the start of negotiations" on the new issues.
UNICE also endorsed the negotiations on Trade and Environment, which is less surprising than it might seem. The Doha Ministereial Declaration launches negotiations ("without prejudicing their outcome") on the relationship between WTO rules and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), such as the Kyoto Protocol. The text is formulated in a way that negotiations could also result in the declaration of WTO rules as superior to MEAs. The second issue under negotiation is liberalisation of 'environmental goods and services'. While this might sound quite benign, it includes areas like water supply, where the impacts of deregulation and privatisation are likely to be disastrous.
The lobby groups of the EU, US and Japanese services industries welcomed the latest round, but would have liked an even more ambitious timeline for GATS negotiations. These are already underway but are now part of the new round. Bids and offers for market access are now to take place in 2002 and early 2003, after which the most intensive phase of negotiations can start. GATS was not a major issue in Doha, but the EU did attempt to further accelerate the time plan for services negotiations.
While the Ministerial Declaration speaks of a 'Work Programme' and governments during the negotiations spoke of the 'Doha Development Agenda', EU Trade Commissioner Lamy already in his first jubilant comment called it "a Round" ["The WTO negotiating show is back on the road", Statement by Pascal Lamy, closing press conference, Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference, Doha, 14 November 2001.
Discordant voices came from some US lobby groups, who felt that the US negotiators had compromised too much in order to get Southern governments to support a new round. The traditionally protectionist US steel industry is concerned about the agreement to negotiate on anti- dumping laws, which the US government uses frequently to keep out imports of low- priced steel. Tellingly, R. K. Morris of the e- commerce- oriented Global Business Dialogue, a prime representative of the "New Economy", had no problems with the outcome. "While I don't think the United States made any concessions at all in a substantive way, it took vision and courage to make the steps it did on dumping."
The pharmaceutical industry opposed wording in the Doha Declaration which confirmed the rights of developing countries to buy cheap generic versions of patented drugs in order to protect public health. In their reactions to Doha, pharmaceutical lobbies stressed that the TRIPS agreement itself - which provides strong worldwide protections for corporate patents - had not been amended.
Why Doha was not Seattle-II
Industry observers evaluating the "success" of the Doha Ministerial all mention the 'September 11 effect', which increased the willingness of governments to compromise. And of course they did not fail to mention the absence of mass demonstrations against a new round in Doha, due to the location as well as visa and other restrictions. Media and negotiators largely ignored the fact that there were local demonstrations in more than 30 countries, sometimes with tens of thousands of people in the streets, on the opening day of the Doha Ministerial. There were peaceful actions in over 100 cities in Italy, with over 50,000 people demonstrating in Rome against the WTO and the bombings in Afghanistan. In Germany, actions took place in more than 25 cities, including over 5,000 in a protest in Berlin. In France, the biggest demonstration gathered 10,000 people in Paris, while a total of 40,000 took part in local actions around the country. Many more people were mobilised than in Seattle, but the direct impact was far less.
In Seattle, the demonstrations outside of the conference venue deepened both the North-South splits and the conflicts between the EU and the US, causing the collapse of the negotiations. In Doha, the dimensions of both these conflicts were, also without demonstrations, somewhat less explosive. Since December 1999, the EU and US have intensified their campaign to restore momentum for a new round, with EU Commissioner Lamy and his US counterpart globetrotting to put pressure on Southern governments. In the preparatory talks in Geneva, many Southern WTO ambassadors consistently opposed the launch of a new round, but strong Northern pressure in the final run-up to Doha undermined the opposition in many Southern capitals. Northern governments used a range of dubious carrot- and- stick methods, from offers of market access and aid, to calls on Southern governments to bring their "stubborn" WTO ambassadors into line. In any case, trade ministers attending the Doha Ministerial were generally less confrontational than their ambassadors in Geneva.
This goes even for Indian Trade Minister Murasoli Maran, who took the lead in opposing the inclusion of new issues in a new round. His threat of walking out of the conference, thereby causing a second "Seattle," seems to have been more a case of shrewd negotiating tactic than a serious attempt to block the new round. While the Indian government was under pressure domestically from the movements calling for alternatives to corporate-led globalisation, it was also facing growing pressure to accept a new round. The pro-round lobbying came from, for instance, the Confederation of Indian Industry as well as neoliberal think-tanks like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations. Maran himself is clearly closer to the second camp than the first. The former manager of a Suzuki Motor Corp joint venture, Maran is described as "an avid free- market proponent."
The outcome of the Doha talks was also crucially influenced by the fact that the EU and the US were far more united in the pursuit of a new round than they have been in the past. Commissioner Lamy and US Trade Representative Zoellick worked in tandem to promote a new round, both before and during the Doha Ministerial. Internal European Commission minutes of a November 2000 strategy meeting between the EC and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) - accessed by Corporate Europe Observatory - reveal that the EC did not consider the opposition by Southern government a serious obstacle. The EC's Director- General for Trade, Mogens Carl, told industry lobbyists: "A new Round would be launched as soon as there is EU-US agreement." When a TABD representative said that developing countries opposed a broad agenda, Carl disagreed. He gave the example of India, "which would have been on board for investment and competition, and also environment, if presented properly, in Seattle (although not labour)."
The internal Commission minutes also provide a disturbing insight into the symbiotic relationship between the EC and industry in promoting a new WTO round. At the November 2000 meeting, Carl indicated that some of the differences between the EU and the US, "could be removed by examples of joint EU- US industry positions." When the TABD asked what business could do to promote EU- US consensus, the EC asked them to ensure that, "the round becomes the number one priority on both sides [of the Atlantic]." During the Clinton era, US business had been less convinced of the round approach, preferring to launch shorter, "early harvest" negotiations. In 2001, both the EU and the US components of the TABD pushed strongly for the launch of a new, three-year WTO round. On the governmental level, the EC worked closely with the Bush administration to push a common WTO agenda, a partnership which was a key factor behind the Doha outcome.
EU and US corporate lobby groups went to Doha knowing that 'their' governments would push for a new WTO round that rather seamlessly fits the corporate agenda. With this in mind, it is not so surprising that corporate lobby groups, although present in large numbers, remained, "pretty much invisible and faceless throughout the meeting," according to one NGO participant. This new, low-profile strategy is in stark contrast with the game plan employed by business at Seattle, where they hosted workshops and participated in panels at WTO Secretariat-sponsored events, amongst other things. In Doha, industry lobbyists remained silent in meetings at the NGO forum, where EU commissioners and government ministers debated with NGOs.
Not including agribusiness, over 130 corporate lobby groups were present at the Doha Ministerial, from a total 465 non-governmental organisations. While this is number is significant, it is less than pre-September 11 levels. In August, the WTO had released a list of 647 accredited NGOs. More than half of them were business interest groups, while less than a third were what most people would consider NGOs - public interest nongovernmental organisations. Many corporate lobbyists, particularly from the US, chose to stay away due to security concerns following September 11 and the war in Afghanistan.
The many corporate lobbyists who did go to Doha worked behind the scenes, putting pressure on negotiators in bilateral meetings, and in the corridors of the conference centre. European industry lobbying appears to have been coordinated by UNICE, which held daily strategy meetings in Doha, behind closed doors. Many industry lobbyists were acting as advisors to government delegations. UNICE and ESF, for instance were advisors to the European Commission delegation. The Dutch employers organisation VNO-NCW had a similar role in the Dutch government delegation, and this was also true of many other national delegations. Many government delegations also included non- business NGOs, but beyond the official delegation briefings, industry also had its own, exclusive meetings with government negotiators. UNICE, for instance, organised a series of bilateral meetings between industry groupings and the EU/ EC representatives.
There are strong indications that the WTO secretariat assisted business in keeping corporate influence out of sight in Doha, in order not fuel growing public discomfort over levels of corporate power. The WTO secretariat is reported to have intervened when the Qatari Host Committee put out a "welcome poster" with the logos of corporations sponsoring the event. The summit in Doha was sponsored by, amongst others, ExxonMobil, TotalFinaElf, DaimlerChrysler, Samsung and the Qatar National Bank. Sponsoring policies were the responsibility of the Qatari host government, the WTO secretariat stresses.
When business did step out in the open, the major players tended to stay in the wings, while rather obscure groups took the centre stage. On November 13th, a group of, "pro-free trade NGOs" organised a press conference in the conference centre. This 'Doha Coalition for Prosperity from Free Trade' said it wanted to, "ensure that pro-trade voices are heard and that anti-trade and anti-WTO NGOs do not monopolise coverage of this historic agreement." This new coalition was created at a strategy meeting in Doha three days earlier, an initiative of Alan Oxley of the Australian Apec Study Centre, a former Australian GATT negotiator. The strategy meeting, discussing ways, "to counter the anti- globalisation message of NGOs," was joined by about 20 groups. Active participants at the meeting included the ultra-neoliberal Fraser Institute (Canada), the International Policy Network (IPN) and others of similar hard-line ideological orientation. The London-based IPN has in recent months gone on the offensive against WTO-protesters. Major newspapers have run hysterical IPN commentaries with titles like, 'Riots Inc. - the business of protesting globalisation'.
WTO Director-General Mike Moore arrives at the Doha Sheraton Hotel
At the end of the Doha Ministerial, the 'Doha Coalition for Prosperity from Free Trade' brought out a press release celebrating the outcome. It describes itself as a coalition of "business and NGOs" and the statement is indeed cosigned by 10 major business federations, including the ESF, the Global Business Dialogue and the Confederation of British Industry. The non-business 'NGOs' are all neoliberal, corporate-funded think- tanks. The 'Free Trade Writers Group' is an example of how far the definition of 'NGO' is stretched. This organisation, officially accredited to the WTO Ministerial as the 'Free Trade Fan Club', is essentially an industry front group, set up by Rachel Thompson of PR giant APCO, another former GATT negotiator who has gone through the revolving door and joined the corporate lobbying world. The Free Trade Writers Group and its involvement in the Doha Coalition for Prosperity from Free Trade appears to be a classic example of the kind of 'public affairs services' offered by APCO under the header 'grassroots advocacy'. "We deploy our own and allied resources to build strong coalitions, organising people at the grassroots level and along the corridors of power," reads the APCO website. APCO runs an active office in Geneva, led by former Canadian WTO ambassador John Weekes.
Doha showed that governments both North and South remain deeply committed to neoliberal trade and investment policies, despite the spectacular rise of a counter-movement in recent years. EU Trade Commissioner Lamy call the Doha outcome, "a round which focuses on development," but the fact is that the EU went to Doha with a set of negotiating goals neatly shaped around corporate priorities which it worked hard to impose on the rest of the world. Doha revealed the cynical reality of Lamy's progressive-sounding talk of, "harnessing globalisation."
Industry, meanwhile, is gearing up to harvest the fruits of its pre-Doha lobbying, pushing for high-speed liberalisation through the new WTO negotiations. This corporate offensive, however, will target many sensitive issues, all of which could turn into serious stumbling blocks and further strengthen the movements questioning the sweeping marketisation of society. The outcome depends on the strength of grassroots-based campaigns for democratising trade and investment policies in North and South. Clearly, the EU's irresponsible push for high-speed global deregulation, however much it is concealed by smooth PR, must be halted. An obvious place to start is by challenging the EU's symbiotic relationship with corporate lobby structures like the TABD and the ESF.
Thanks to Tony Clarke, K. T. Suresh, Nicole Metz, Remi Parmentier, Alexandra Wandel and others for their insights from the Doha Ministerial.
1: Ministerial Declaration, WTO Fourth Ministerial Conference,
http://www-heva.wto-ministerial.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min01_e/min01_e. htm | Back to Text |
2: For an extensive analysis of the outcome of the Doha Ministerial, see for instance: 'The Meaning of Doha', Walden Bello, Focus on the Global South, and Anuradha Mittal, Food First,
http://www.focusweb.org/publications/2001/the-meaning-of-doha.htm | Back to Text |
3: 'U. S. Companies Broadly Back WTO Pledge To Begin New Trade Talks, but Labor Critical', International Trade Daily, November 20, 2000. | Back to Text |
4: This is clearly the case, for instance, in the International Chamber of Commerce's (ICC) four-page sponsored supplement on the Doha Ministerial printed in the International Herald Tribune on November 8. Compared to the aggressive tone used by the ICC before previous WTO Ministerials, the ICC's demands are narrowed down significantly, for instance on the issue of including talks on investment. 'The Challenge of Doha - Launching a new world trade round', International Herald Tribune, Sponsored Section, November 8, 2001. In April 2001, Morris Tabaksblatt of the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) made clear that European industry was willing to sacrifice investment and other controversial new issues, in order to get a new round. 'Liberalising Trade and Investment; Business Perspective on the Need to Move ahead', speech at meeting of the Evian Group, Montreux, 21 April 2001, http://www.ert.be | Back to Text |
6: Ibid. | Back to Text |
7: Ministerial Declaration, WTO Fourth Ministerial Conference,
http://www-heva.wto-ministerial.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min01_e/min01_e.htm | Back to Text |
9: 'Services Industry Groups Express Satisfaction With Doha Declaration', WTO Reporter, November 21, 2001. | Back to Text |
10: "Services was not a subject of much debate although the EU was pushing for an accelerated timetable for the request/ offer negotiations, with March 2002 as target date for requests to be submitted, and the end of 2002 for offers to be tabled." 'New WTO Round - A Doha Daily Report', by Mr. Chan of the Hong Kong Coalition of Services Industries, November 11, 2001. http://www.hkcsi.org.hk/papers/report/doha/adventure.doc | Back to Text |
11: 'U. S. Industry Leaders Have Mixed Views About a New Round of WTO Trade Talks', The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2001. | Back to Text |
12: 'WTO Talks on Agenda for New WTO Trade Round Go Into Overtime as India Goes to the Mat', International Trade Daily, November 14, 2001. | Back to Text |
13: 'US Industry Leaders Have Mixed Views About a New Round of WTO Trade Talks', The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2001. | Back to Text |
See also the report by Alan Oxley, who attended Doha for the Australian APEC Study Centre
http://www.worldgrowth.org/pages/trade/wgdoha-results.shtml | Back to Text |
16: According to Indian fund manager and economist Bhalla, Maran's behaviour was "purely part of his negotiation strategy." He "never had any intention of blocking" a new round of talks. 'Indian Minister Rattles WTO', Dow Jones Newswires, November 18, 2001. | Back to Text |
17: Ibid. | Back to Text |
18: At the same meeting, Carl claimed that, "as soon as there is EU-US consensus on the agenda, a new round could be launched within a relatively short period." 'Meeting Report', Meeting between Carl and TABD Representatives, November 6, 2000, Brussels. | Back to Text |
19: Ibid. | Back to Text |
20: ibid. | Back to Text |
21: Abbot, in 'Meeting Report', Meeting between M. Carl and TABD Representatives, November 6, 2000, Brussels. | Back to Text |
22: See for instance 'European Industry in Seattle', Corporate Europe Observer Issue 6 (April 2000). | Back to Text |
23: 'NGOs attending the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference, Doha, Qatar 9-13 November 2001', http://www-heva.wto-ministerial.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min01_e/min01_ngo_e.htm
24: 'The WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar: Note on the General Composition of NGO Representation', Vice Yu, Friends of the Earth International WTO Program Officer, August 2001. | Back to Text |
26: 'Free Trade progress in Doha applauded by Business and NGOs', "Press Release by Pro- Free Trade NGOs", November 13 2001, Doha, Qatar. | Back to Text |
27: Ibid. | Back to Text |
28: The event was titled 'Strategies to support trade, growth and the WTO'. 'New WTO Round - A Doha Daily Report', WK Chan, Hong Kong Coalition of Services Industries, November 10, 2001. http://www.hkcsi.org.hk/papers/report/doha/adventure.doc | Back to Text |
30: The International Policy Network, with close links to right wing US think- tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, mixes zealous defence of unregulated markets with fierce anti- environmentalism. In "Riots Inc. - the business of protesting globalisation", the IPN denounces the antiglobalisation movement as "a foundation-, union- and government- funded coalition of convenience". The IPN article includes a detailed, but factually incorrect, overview of the funding sources for activist groups and movements. For instance, Ms. Okonski makes claims that European trade unions provide millions of dollar support for "antiglobalisation groups". In reality, most European trade unions have systematically kept at an arms- length from the more radical critics of neoliberalism. See http://www.policynetwork.net and "Riots Inc. The business of protesting globalisation", The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2001. | Back to Text |
31: The list of signatories reads like a global who's who of evangelistic right- wing think- tanks propagating the presumed blessings of unregulated markets, such as Bangladesh-based 'Making Our Economy Right', the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Swedish Timbro and the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs. See http://www.worldgrowth.org/pages/trade/wg-doha.shtml | Back to Text |
32: The Free Trade Writers Group describes itself as "a network of individual academics, researchers and writers from around the world who are concerned at the current wave of hyperbolic claims against openness and non- discrimination in world trade." Rachel Thompson, a former Australian GATT negotiator, is Associate Director of Trade Policy at APCO and member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. See http://www.freetradewritersgroup.org | Back to Text |
34: Ibid. | Back to Text |