Science in Society Archive

Manipulation and Deceit at Doha

How the Cabal of the Elite Bullied Developing Countries into accepting what is effectively a New Round of WTO negotiations that would make poor countries even poorer. Martin Khor, Director of Third World Network, veteran observer and commentator on WTO negotiations, gives us a unique insider story.

The World Trade Organisation’s 4th Ministerial Conference which took place on 9–14 November in Doha was hardly a normal conference, where people exchange views that are more or less accurately recorded in a report, which everyone has a chance to agree on. Instead, the Doha meeting was held in pressure-cooker conditions, in which a set of elite countries pressed the majority of developing countries to accept major elements of a future work programme, which they had earlier rejected.

The developing countries had prepared well for this meeting, and played by the rules. Many had regional preparatory meetings, and submitted their views prior to the Doha meeting.

The elite countries then changed the rules, using manipulative tactics to sideline the majority, put great pressure on those who resisted, and forced a "victory" of a work programme that further skews the WTO towards securing benefits for a few rich countries, at the majority’s expense.

The struggle of the developing countries goes back to before the famous 1999 Seattle Ministerial. Their views - that the Singapore issues (see Box) should continue to be studied - were included in the draft Seattle Declaration alongside the views of the elites, who demanded negotiations to begin on the new issues.

The draft presented in Seattle was democratic, but the process was non-participatory. Most countries were excluded from the consultations going on in small "Green Rooms", as in Singapore. Angry Ministers from the African and Caribbean regions asserted that they would not rubber-stamp any Declaration thrust upon them. The Seattle conference collapsed without any Declaration.

After Seattle, pressures continued from the EU, Japan and the US, to have the Singapore issues on the agenda. But more developing countries than before were opposed. They were anxious to avoid committing to yet more of the unequal treaties that have already obstructed national policy-making, with devastating effects on development. They clearly stated their opposition in various pre-Doha meetings.

In Geneva, home of the WTO, the developing countries urged the WTO to focus on resolving the "problems of implementation" that would redress the weaknesses and imbalances of existing WTO rules, and to put aside negotiations on the new issues. Present WTO structure and rules do not take into account the capacities, needs and interests of developing countries; many agreements are against their interests. Protectionism of developed countries’ markets (e.g. agricultural subsidies), while forcing open and dumping cheap exports in the South’s markets, continues. New negotiations would divert attention from existing problems, overload the system and add to the developing countries’ burdens.

Prior to and at Seattle, the draft was democratic but the process was non-participatory. Prior to and at Doha, the opposite tactic was used. Members were allowed to go through the motions of consultation and participation, but the text of the Ministerial Declaration was undemocratic, one-sided and discriminatory, and became progressively more so with each successive draft.

The first draft, produced on 26 September by the Chairman of the General Council (Stuart Harbinson) and the Director General Mike Moore, was biased against the developing countries. But it at least provided two options (either start negotiations or continue studying the matter) for two of the new issues, investment and competition.

Consultations continued at a frenzied pace, but the WTO Members came no closer to agreement. Most developing countries voiced their disagreement with starting negotiations on new issues and asked that the next draft reflect this.

To their dismay and shock, the second draft (27 October) ignored their views altogether. The study option for investment and competition was removed: the draft committed Ministers to negotiate new treaties.

It is normal practice to reflect disagreements by placing the different positions in square brackets or opposing views in different paragraphs. The second draft was presented, however, as if it was "clean" (by not reflecting the divergent views).

At the WTO’s General Council meeting from 31 October-1 November, the developing countries were very critical of the drafting process as "untransparent and deceitful", and of its contents as reflecting only the views of major developed countries.

To add insult to injury, Harbinson and Moore transmitted the draft to the Doha meeting, although there was no consensus on the text. Although many delegations demanded that their views in areas of disagreement be reflected in a revised text, or at least noted in the text or an annex or cover letter, this was not done.

At Doha, the same manipulative pattern continued. Harbinson presented the controversial draft during the ceremonial opening (instead of at the first business meeting), where there was no opportunity for comments. At the first business meeting, the Conference Chairman announced he had appointed six "friends of the Chair" to carry out consultations on six contentious issues. All six were known to be pro-"New Round", as the elite cabal’s proposal was known. How they were selected, why the bias favouring one camp, and what powers they would have, were not discussed beforehand. Nor was the choice of the issues. Other issues disputed by many developing countries were not among the list of issues for consultations. Reservations were raised, but to no avail.

During the consultations at Doha, most developing countries opposed the parts of the draft that asked for negotiations to begin on the new issues. As late as 13 November, a statement was presented on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the least developed countries: they were not prepared to negotiate the new issues.

Again, their views were ignored. The next draft was even more committed to negotiations on the new issues.

The elite countries and the Secretariat were desperate to avoid failure. If the meeting were to end as scheduled on 13 November, there would not have been agreement based on the draft. A decision was made to extend the meeting another day. Several heads of delegation, unable to change their schedules, left before the meeting ended.

The elites and the Secretariat then organized the last big push - a marathon Green Room meeting that lasted from 6pm on 13 November to 6am, 14 November. Only 24 countries were invited to participate. The developing countries that attended were placed at a great disadvantage.

Late on the morning of 14 November, another draft Ministerial Declaration was produced, even more biased than its predecessor, committing Members to negotiate agreements on the Singapore issues after the 5th Ministerial.

At a final informal meeting, the Indian Commerce Minister valiantly protested that the draft did not reflect his country’s views, and asked that changes be made. Another dozen countries similarly expressed unhappiness. Intense pressure was being applied on India; delegates from some developed countries commented to the media that a single country was trying to wreck the whole Conference.

A final compromise was worked out where the Conference Chairman, the Trade Minister of Qatar, would read out a "chairman’s understanding" that an explicit consensus was required before negotiations could begin on the issues of investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. After that, India announced it would "join the consensus".

One of the first future controversies will be over which of the two versions stands: the Declaration, in which Ministers appear to have agreed to negotiating the new issues after the 5th Ministerial, or the Chairman’s interpretation, that an explicit consensus is needed on the question of whether to begin negotiations.

Doha also produced a work programme more onerous than that of the previous Uruguay Round. The trade expert, Bhagirath Lal Das, estimates that the post-Doha work programme is at least 50% heavier. Developing countries will not have the strength or resources to bear this burden.

The outcome is profoundly anti-development, despite the rhetoric of developed countries and the Secretariat that they launched a Development Agenda at Doha. The process that produced it is just as shocking. It has been undemocratic, discriminatory, deceitful and untransparent, based not on rules, but on power-tactics. What a shame, and a mockery to the supposed principles of the WTO – "non-discrimination, transparency, rules-based". It should not be allowed to happen again.

A longer version of this article and other articles on the Doha Conference are in ‘Everything but development: the Doha WTO outcome and process’, Third World Resurgence, 135-136, Nov/Dec 2001, Penang: Third World Network and

Singapore issues

New issues on investment, competition and government procurement were introduced at the first Ministerial in Singapore, 1996. The developing countries were pressured to accept these issues for discussion, through a manipulative "Green Room" meeting of a few selected countries, but they resisted the pressure to immediately begin negotiations for new treaties. After five years of discussion on those issues and on trade facilitation, most developing countries concluded they were not suitable subjects for negotiation. These issues favour the developed countries’ interests and will burden developing countries with more obligations without accruing adequate benefits for them. Furthermore, developing countries would be constrained on policy options for their development needs.

I-SIS News 13 index

Article first published February 2002

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