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Darkness at noon in Doha negotiations
D Ravi Kanthin in Geneva
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July 25, 2008 10:13 IST

World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy on Thursday faced serious charges of creating darkness at noon in the crucial Doha modalities negotiations when several trade ministers complained about their exclusion from the hard bargains he is conducting among seven members that also include India.

On Wednesday, Lamy constituted a new group of seven members - the United States, the European Union, Japan, Brazil, India, Australia and China - to try and resolve some six difficult issues that are eluding any agreement.

In the process, over a score of trade ministers who have been invited to the same ministerial meeting are in the dark and not involved in the negotiations, which will impact their final commitments.

Switzerland's hard-hitting trade minister, Doris Leuthard, told Business Standard "this is unacceptable". It is wrong to call the trade ministers here and then keep them in darkness, she said.

Leuthard bluntly told Lamy during the informal trade negotiations committee meeting today that "you have put many of us ministers in the waiting room, which creates political problems for me at home because I am not able to defend fully the Swiss interests. Many of developing country colleagues are in the same situation."

"I have strong doubts on the composition of the small group (the seven countries), which does not reflect the interests and sensitivities of many countries, in particular the ones of the smaller G10 countries like mine."

Mauritius, on behalf of over 80 ACP (Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific) countries, said they were disturbed over this lack of complete transparency.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said she represents 45 countries in the G-33 coalition but has no clue as to what is being negotiated among the seven countries.

She said this was unfortunate as in some of the issues on which the G-33 is fighting - special products and special safeguard mechanism - the coordinator was not involved. "Indonesia and other ministers are left in the dark waiting room," said Pangestu.

In response to the criticism, the WTO chief said he shared the members' frustrations. He added this was one way to move the process, arguing that the final agreement had to be endorsed by all members at the trade negotiations committee meeting.

Lack of transparency has always been a thorny issue in the WTO negotiations and this is not the first time it has come up in a big way. During the Seattle ministerial meeting in 1999, all African trade ministers had threatened to boycott the meeting if they were not involved in the green room.

But what is significant this time around is the mounting criticism from the industrialised and developing countries, several trade ministers said.

Isn't there something drastically wrong with these negotiations when the main coordinators like Switzerland, the coordinator for the G-10 farm defensive countries, Indonesia, championing the cause of special products and special flexibilities, Mauritius, the coordinator for ACP countries, Kenya, the leader of African countries, and South Africa, the coordinator for the Nama-11 countries, have been kept out of the negotiations, asked a trade minister.

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