Bali, Indonesia - Early the morning of December 7th, in the talks of the 9th Ministerial meeting of the WTO, a paragraph was removed from draft text – obviously at the demand of the United States – relating to the embargo/blockade against Cuba. Members are here negotiating a deal on “trade facilitation,” which would simplify customs and border procedures, but which also puts binding conditions on developing countries to ensure fast and efficient transit procedures (meaning that other members could file cases against them in the WTO for failure to comply).
Civil society organizations working here have sharply criticized the texts for putting binding rules on developing countries for further pro-corporate liberalization commitments that are not to their advantage, while not offering enough changes to existing WTO rules which limit developing – but not developed – countries from investing in farmers’ livelihoods and food security.
Given the topic of the negotiations, facilitating trade, it must have appeared reasonable to Cuba to insert a paragraph setting down a binding rule against discriminatory measures on goods in transit. However, when negotiators convened on the last night of the conference at 9 p.m., after a long week of negotiations focused on other issues, and the Chair of the Ministerial distributed the draft text for final approval, Cuba noticed that its paragraph had been removed. After repeated efforts to gain the floor, the Cuban Ambassador, Nancy Madrigal, appears to have been treated rather brusquely by the chair, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan of Indonesia, who did not even let her speak.
Upon reconvening the meeting, Ambassador Madrigal sought clarification of how the negotiations on the pending issues would continue, given that Cuba’s text had been removed without even the slightest consultations. The chair, however, did not offer a path to further negotiations, and instead was clearly expecting everyone to simply affirm their agreement. At that point Ambassador Madrigal read a statement on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) countries of Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela, rejecting the entire text.
What we have before us remain unbalanced and we will do everything within our reach and power so that the WTO does not continue to be used for neoliberal globalization. What we see is a perpetuation of subsidies and support policies used by developed countries that remain untouchable. It is inconceivable that an organization that [is accepting a deal on trade facilitation] is incapable of adopting one paragraph against discrimination on goods in transit. [paraphrased excerpt]
As of 6:24 a.m. on Saturday morning, December 7th, in Bali, the Director-General is alternating private meetings with the United States and the ALBA group. Another meeting of the Heads of Delegations is convened at 10:00 a.m., and it appears that an agreement has been reached.
Even so, this is yet another moment when the emerging independence of Latin America has opened up opportunities for a more just and democratic global economy. A similar objection to the WTO text occured in the 2005 Ministerial in Hong Kong, when Maripili Hernandez, the Minister of Venezuela, objected to the text. But her reservation, along with that of Cuba’s, ended up in a footnote of the approved document.
More details below.
Then negotiators were given three hours to review the text, and reconvened after midnight (the morning of December 7th). At that time, Minister Wijrawan and the Director-General of the WTO, Roberto Azevêdo, apologized for the earlier “miscommunication,” and it was reported that Ambassador Madrigal accepted the apology and basically accepted the text. Given that Cuba was one of the countries that other negotiators were worried might block the text, press reports started leaking that a deal was at hand.
However, Cuba later retook the floor, and issued a clarification, not that they accepted their text having been removed, but that they were looking forward to hearing from the chair, on how they could continue the negotiations and requested a clarification as to how members were going to proceed in order to deal with the pending issues.
The chair then seemed to ignore her point, and tried to move on, not once but twice. After the second time, Madrigal also stated that she had a statement they were prepared to read, but wanted further clarification of the process for dealing with pending issues. The chair seemed to state that there would be “consultations” but did not point towards a path towards actual negotiations, before the closing ceremony which was scheduled for 3:00 a.m. Given that the chair indicated that there would be no further negotiations, she then read a statement, rejecting the text:
[paraphrasing] Taking into account your comments, we make a statement on behalf of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. We accept the apologies; however, what happened today remains unacceptable and criticizable in an organization that claims to be member-driven. If this happens simply for calling for sovereign rights what can we accept by imposing a (text)? We firmly reject application of methods that undermine multilateralism and do not accept procedures that seem to show inclusiveness but is just given last minute text. This has been achieved by means of manipulations shifting an image that we will be beneficiaries of text. In accepting what has been presented to us we will be facing the same difficulties we faced as part of the Uruguay Round. What we have before us remain unbalanced and we will do everything within our reach and power so that the WTO does not continue to be used for neoliberal globalization. What we see is a perpetuation of subsidies and support policies used by developed countries that remain untouchable. It is inconceivable that an organization that [is accepting a deal on trade facilitation] is incapable of adopting one paragraph against discrimination on goods in transit…We have been blockaded not only in our legitimate right to negotiate, but also unable to exercise our right to speech.
Thus we reject categorically the documents that have been presented and we formally oppose the adoption of these texts pursuant to article IX.1 of the Marrakesh agreement. We will continue to defend the rights of developing countries. We request this statement be put forward as an official document of our countries.
1. Trade Facilitation Room W Text, 25 November 2013, Section 1, Article 12.4: Freedom of Transit: [Members shall not apply discriminatory measures to goods in transit or to vessels of other means of transport of other Members, for reasons of any kind. This does not exclude the right to resort to the exceptions already laid down in WTO Agreements, for valid reasons and provided that the measure concerned does not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade.]