Civil society organizations call for Lamy panel’s dissolution

Panel on Defining the Future of
Trade. (Photo: TAG-Org)

A number of civil society organizations have strongly objected to the panel of “WTO stakeholders” formed recently by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and tasked to examine and analyze challenges to global trade in the 21st century, reported journalist Kanaga Raja on the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) news service.

In a letter to Lamy, the groups said that the Panel on Defining the Future of Trade, more than half of which is composed of representatives of the business sector, “does not have the global legitimacy of the stakeholders  ̶  those who will be impacted by the future of trade negotiations within the multilateral system  ̶  to be able to propose a legitimate path forward for future WTO negotiations.”

The civil society groups called on Lamy to dissolve the panel, given that any proposals that emanate from it would lack legitimacy.

“Instead, we call on you to work with the membership to identify the changes to the existing WTO and ongoing negotiations that are necessary to ensure that governments have the policy space to use trade for sustainable and inclusive development, and to regulate in the public interest,” the groups said.

Among the signatories to the letter are the organizations Centre national de coopération au développement (CNCD-11.11.11, Belgium) and the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), both from Belgium; Africa Trade Network; Alternative Information & Development Centre, South Africa; Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); Council of Canadians; Focus on the Global South; Friends of the Earth, US; International Forum on Globalisation, US; New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), India; Oakland Institute, US; Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG); Public Citizen, US; Third World Network-Africa; Third World Network; War on Want, UK; and World Development Movement, UK.

Lamy had announced on April the composition of the 12-member panel. In a press release, WTO’s Director-General had said: “The difficulties we, and many other multilateral institutions, have encountered in recent years is indisputable proof that yesterday’s solutions simply cannot be applied to the problems we face today. This panel encompasses experts from all corners of the world and nearly every field of endeavour. Their analysis will spark debate and open new channels of thinking on how we can best confront the stumbling blocks that today’s rapidly evolving world has strewn in our collective path.”

The 12 panellists are Talal Abu-Ghazaleh (Chairman and Founder, Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Overseas Corporation, Jordan); Sharan Burrow (Secretary-General, International Trade Union Confederation, Brussels); Helen Clark (United Nations Development Program [UNDP] Administrator); Thomas J. Donohue (President and CEO, US Chamber of Commerce); Frederico Fleury Curado (President and CEO, Embraer SA, Brazil); Victor K. Fung (Chairman of Fung Global Institute and Honorary Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong, China); Pradeep Singh Mehta (Secretary-General, CUTS International, India); Festus Gontebanye Mogae (former President of Botswana); Josette Sheeran (Vice Chairman, World Economic Forum); Jurgen R. Thumann (President, BUSINESSEUROPE, Brussels); George Yeo (former Foreign Minister, Singapore and Vice Chairman of Kerry Group Limited); and Fujimori Yoshiaki (President and CEO, JS Group Corporation, Tokyo).

Subsequently, at a meeting of the WTO General Council on May, where the issue of Lamy’s panel had figured, several key developing countries expressed reservations over the panel, making clear that the panel and its outcome would be on the Director-General’s own responsibility.

In their letter to Lamy, the civil society groups said that they find the composition of the panel to be extremely biased in favor of the corporate sector, with inadequate representation of civil society.

“One NGO, particularly one of the characteristics of CUTS, would not be able to provide a full perspective of the views of NGOs, including many of the signatories [to the letter] ... which have been involved in the issues of the WTO since before its inception,” said the letter.

Although the groups observed the participation of the International Trade Union Confederation, they said that there are no representatives from other important civil society sectors, such as farmers, indigenous peoples, women’s rights groups, consumers, and the international human rights and health defenders communities.

“As well, the diversity of the membership of the WTO is extremely ill-represented on this panel. Of the 12 panelists, only one is from Africa and only one is from Latin America,” they warned. There are no representatives from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), “despite their importance in the current negotiations,” the letter adds.

The civil society groups also said that they were “extremely dismayed” that the one global institution focused on ensuring that trade does serve development goals, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), was excluded from this panel.

“The exclusion of UNCTAD only serves to provide further evidence that the WTO Secretariat intends to use the panel to formulate a path for future negotiations that excludes the very concept of development from the WTO’s goal of expanding trade,” the letter stressed.

According to the groups, the WTO is, by statute, a member-driven organization. Thus, any initiatives to move forward regarding future negotiations should come from the membership.

“We find the process of the composition of the panel to have been autocratic and not in keeping with the rhetoric of a member-driven organization,” they said.

“We are also extremely cognizant of the fact that a similar panel, the so-called Leutweiler panel’s report commissioned by then Director-General of the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), Arthur Dunkel, also lacked legitimacy, but was nevertheless utilized to crowd out a truly member-driven process with stakeholder participation, which would have led to a much more development-oriented result,” the civil society groups added.

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