Posturing in Doha

 sickle_s.gif (30476 bytes) People’s Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 18,2001

Posturing in Doha

Amit Sen Gupta

AS we go to
press, the Fourth Session of the Ministerial Meeting of WTO at Doha is reaching its
concluding stages. There are, as yet, conflicting reports regarding the outcome of the
meeting. Three drafts have been circulated by the WTO Secretariat, and are to be finalised
at the meeting. The drafts that are being discussed include:

  • a draft Ministerial Declaration,
  • a draft on Intellectual Property
    Rights (IPR) and Public Health, and
  • a draft on Implementation Issues.

While the final
outcome of the discussions will be known after the 13th November, it would be
interesting to examine the process that led to the Doha meeting.


Readers will
recall that the Third Ministerial meeting at Seattle in 1999, ended in a fiasco, with no
major decisions being taken. The blame, then, was put on widespread street protests that
were organised at Seattle by different interest groups. The truth of the matter, however,
is that the Seattle meeting ended in such a manner, partly because the two major players
in world trade today, the European Union and the United States, were unable to reach an
agreement on certain issues – especially on the contentious issue of large subsidies being
provided to agriculture by countries in the European Union.

The other major
reason was the suspicion among developing countries that all major decisions were being
taken behind closed doors (the infamous “green room” process). As a result, on
one hand the developed countries were unable to get their act together, and on the other,
there was the forging of a kind of unity among developing countries against the
machinations of the developed countries.

It is important
to recall India’s role at Seattle. Many commentators had noted the surprisingly
passive stance that India had taken at Seattle. Nowhere were they in the forefront in
forging a unity among developing countries. In fact India’s Minister, Murosali Maran,
had cause to comment at Seattle that it should not be taken for granted that India’s
interests are necessarily co-terminus with those of other developing countries.

Since Seattle,
the developed countries have approached the Doha meeting with a degree of trepidation. Not
wanting to repeat the fiasco of Seattle, major preparations have gone into the Doha
meeting. The battle lines were clearly drawn. The developed countries wished to push the
WTO into a new round, a round that would bring the Uruguay Round of GATT (that led to the
signing of the WTO agreement in 1995) to its logical conclusion. The new round would
initiate negotiations on issues related to investment, competition policy, government
procurement and trade facilitation.


Without getting
into the specifics of each of these, it would suffice here to say that these areas
constitute the “unfinished agenda” of the Uruguay Round. Once negotiated they
would ensure the near complete dominance of the WTO over sovereign governments in
decision-making on matters related to trade and capital flow. The last is of particular
importance for developed countries.

The negotiations
on investment under the aegis of Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), seek to remove
all barriers on capital flows. Negotiations on TRIMS have been resisted by developing
countries since the WTO came into force, because it would be the final blow against the
economic sovereignty of nation states. On the other hand, the economies of capitalist
countries are today driven by finance capital that seeks avenues for short-term
investments that are largely speculative. Such short-term flows are known to exit at the
first hint of trouble and can ravage whole economies precisely because of their volatile
nature (as happened in East Asia a few years back).

Similarly, a
multilateral agreement on Competition Policy would seek to remove controls by country
governments on the conduct of


countries, on the other hand, have been insisting that the Doha Ministerial meeting should
confine itself to discussing issues related to implementation of the WTO agreement. Their
contention has been that these issues need to be discussed, as experience in
implementation of the WTO agreement since 1995, point to a large number of asymetries that
favour developed nations vis-a-vis developing nations.

It may be
recalled that the WTO agreement was “sold” to developing countries with the
promise that the developed countries’ markets, in the two sectors that are crucial to them
– agriculture and textiles – would be opened up for them. However they both continued to
remain closed six years after the WTO agreement was signed.

In agriculture,
developed countries continue to protect their markets through stiff tariff barriers – at
times over 200 to 300 per cent. Moreover, developed countries, contrary to commitments
given, have actually increased subsidies provided to domestic agricultural products,
thereby rendering exports by developing countries uncompetitive. Domestic subsidies in
OECD countries have risen from US $275 billion to US $326 billion in 1999 (according to
OECD data).

In textiles,
only very few items which the developing countries export have been taken off the quota
list, even though more than half the implementation period has passed. According to the
International Textiles and Clothing Bureau, in June 2000, only a few quota restrictions
had been eliminated:

  • 13 out of 750 by the US;
  • 14 out of 219 by the EU;
  • 29 out of 295 by Canada).

The developing
nations want issues such as these to be discussed before entering into negotiations in new


The other issue
that has dominated the run-up to the Doha meeting has been the issue of access to
essential medicines
, in the context of the Trade Related Intellectual Property (TRIPS)
agreement under WTO.

The widely
evocative issue of access to anti-retrovirals, i.e., the drugs that are used to
treat AIDS patients, has played a major role in the way the international community today
sees the pharmaceutical industry. Treatment of AIDS with a combination of drugs – – called
Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Treatment (HAART) – has decreased mortality from AIDS by 84%
in developing countries. Unfortunately less that 5% of AIDS infected people across the
globe, have access to such treatment currently, because the estimated cost of treatment by
HAART is about $12,000 per person per year.

At the present
rates Zimbabwe, Uganda and Ivory Coast would require to spend 265%, 172% and 84% of their
respective Gross National Products, just to buy drugs to treat all their AIDS patients!

This issue has
been the rallying point of a major global campaign that today is demanding a closer,
critical look at the TRIPS agreement. Every country that has tried to interpret the TRIPS
Agreement in a manner that allows access to cheaper drugs for its people, is faced with a
hostile reaction from the US. But it has led to the building of an unprecedented global
coalition against the use of TRIPS to deny the poor access to drugs.

The WTO has been
forced to take note of the hostile global reaction to the inhuman effects of the TRIPS
accord and has circulated a separate draft on this issue entitled, IPR and Public
. This,in a manner, is a small victory for the global campaign on access, but
the response by the WTO still falls short of the requirements. By circulating a separate
draft on the issue, and not incorporating it in the draft ministerial text, the attempt is
clearly to ensure that the basic TRIPS agreement is not “tampered with”. At best
the concession being offered is that the TRIPS agreement can be more “liberally”
interpreted in the light of concerns related to public health. The developed countries,
led by the US, continue to oppose even this small concession.


Let us now turn
to the manner in which the drafts for the Doha meeting have been finalised by the WTO
Secretariat. The final drafts circulated by the WTO Secretariat are the handiwork of just
two persons – Chairman Stuart Harbinson and WTO Director General Mike Moore.

The drafts have
been criticised by virtually every developing country as being biased and one-sided. In
fact the drafts circulated on October 27, are even less sympathetic to the positions of
developing countries than the earlier drafts discussed in the meeting at Singapore in
September. The September drafts themselves were seen by developing countries as an attempt
to bulldoze them into a new round without addressing their concerns regarding
implemenation of the WTO accord.

Many developing
countries, individually and collectively, had written in dissent to the WTO Secretariat
regarding the September drafts. Murosali Maran, reacting to the draft on behalf of India,
had written a letter to Harbinson objecting to a large number of formulations in the
September draft. Curiously, almost on every single point where Mr.Maran has shown dissent,
the October draft has moved in the reverse direction!

The September
draft on the issue of new areas, for example, had two options provided – that they be
negotiated in a new round, or that further studies be commissioned. The October draft has
only one option—one that essentially calls for a new round for these areas to be
negotiated. We thus have a situation where two bureaucrats sitting in the WTO Secretariat,
in cynical disregard of submissions made by leaders of sovereign states, produce their own
interpretation of what should be discussed at the ministerial meeting. They, in addition,
have the temerity to state that the drafts represent “their best approximation of a
compromise solution among the differing positions of the membership”.

Clearly the WTO,
given its utter disdain of the views expressed by sovereign nations, sees itself as a
supra-national entity that can usurp the powers of decision making and governance.

In its effort to
ram through a new round, the WTO has been greatly served by the September 11 events. In
the present climate, where taking a position against the US is seen as a support to
terrorism, Doha could not have come at a more opportune time for the western imperialists.
The US is in a position to brazenly use the opportunity to bulldoze its way through the
corridors of the WTO. It is now clear that earlier speculations that the Doha meeting
would be postponed were premised on entirely wrong presumptions. The Financial Times in
fact commented recently that the likely success of the Doha meeting and the launch of a
new round, owes a lot to Bin Laden. It has even prompted some commentators to suggest that
any new round should be named as the Bin Laden Round for the economic Talibanisation
of the WTO trading system!


Let us now turn
to the Indian response. In recent weeks the Indian government, led by Mr.Maran, has been
busy blaming the WTO for not taking note of the concerns raised by developing countries.
This in itself is a welcome step. Unfortunately, it may well be a case of too little and
too late. Too late because India’s strong public reaction comes after years of
kowtowing to the diktats of the developed nations in the WTO. It is a history that
stretches back to 1989.

It is a sordid
tale of perfidy and subterfuge, to which both the previous Narasimha Rao government of the
Congress, and the present NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, have been party. As
mentioned earlier, even at Seattle in WTO, the Indian delegation chose to express its
preference for siding with the US position rather than make common cause with developing
countries. Before 1989, India was acknowledged as the leader of developing nations in
GATT. It is a position that successive negotiating teams have frittered away. Time and
again India has shown itself to be weak under pressure from developed countries,
especially the US.

In such a
situation lamenting that India is isolated in WTO is a gross misrepresentation of the
negotiating history in GATT and WTO. India is isolated because it chose to break ranks and
capitulate to pressure. Today smaller developing countries do not trust India to argue
their case effectively and to its final conclusion. They thus feel that if they are to
sell themselves to the interests of developed nations, they would rather do it directly
than use the services of a middleman.

There is another
reason why other developing nations view India with a degree of mistrust. They see India
trying to be the US’s most faithful ally in the global arena. India’s shameless
welcoming of the US’s National Missile Defence System is a case in point – an issue
where even some of the US’s close allies were loath to come out in support.

In economic
matters the Indian government has often gone far beyond what is required by the WTO:

  • it brought in competition in the
    Insurance sector when the WTO agreement still does not require it to do so;
  • it brought in competition in the
    Telecom sector well before it was required to do so;
  • it relaxed Quantitative
    Restrictions on a large number of imported items much before it needed to;
  • even in the area of investments,
    it has liberalised norms for foreign investors even before negotiations on TRIMS have been

So when other
nations see India’s minister thundering against the WTO from public platforms, they
understand that much of what is being said is posturing.


The present
posturing is also too little. If and when a new round is initiated the Indian government
is going to claim that it was dragged, kicking and screaming to the altar, against its
will. What they will not say is that India had an option to do something further. At
Singapore the Indian delegation could have insisted on a vote on the draft. Under WTO
rules, if even a single country insists, any draft emanating from a meeting can be put to
vote. It still can do it in Doha if it is not satisfied with the final text. But India
will not do so because it has not done the necessary homework to mobilise other countries.
It will not do so saying that it does not want to break the WTO practice of reaching
decisions by a consensus. But today such a consensus is a manufactured consensus, and
besides a consensus that goes against the will of the majority.

If the method of
reaching decisions by this manner of “consensus” is not given a summary burial
the likes of Harbinson and Moore will continue to thumb their noses at the collective will
of a majority of nations in the world.

Doha is not the
end of the world. Today, more than ever before, India has the opportunity to regain its
position as the leader of developing countries. But in order to be able to do so it must
shed its doublespeak and stand up to pressures by imperialism. It cannot be done by mere
sloganeering, while all the time bartering away India’s precious resources for a few
pieces of silver. and the odd pat on the back from Uncle Sam.

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