WTO blog 3: What's on the agenda?

29 November 2009

Today I have been attending briefings in preparation for the ministerial conference which starts at 3pm tomorrow afternoon. I walked to the WTO building to pick up my badge which will allow me access to the ministerial as well as the NGO centre.

During a NGO briefing, we were told that we could access the open spaces at the ministerial conference (book shop, coffee bar, loos) but that the main sessions would be closed and only 42 people from NGOs (there are around 500 NGO representatives in total here) could attend the opening plenary. Most of the NGOs in the room were not happy with the lack of access but shrugged their shoulders and rolled their eyes acknowledging this is how the WTO works – unaccountable and untransparent. A Norwegian campaigner commented that when he attended the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation summit, NGOs were allowed access to the meetings and were even allowed to take the floor in some debates. The director of public affairs could only confess that the WTO were not that ‘advanced’ yet.

So my badge can get me coffee (which I don’t drink) and books (on free trade)…

Expectations for the ministerial conference have been deliberately kept low by Pascal Lamy (Director General of the WTO) to avoid another high profile ministerial failure. The Doha negotiations are not actually on the agenda, instead the ministerial will have two working sessions, one on ‘Review of WTO work programme including Doha work programme’ and ‘WTO contributions to recovery, growth and development’ – in other words, discussing ways to improve how they do things and trying to sell the WTO as a solution for the economic crisis. In spite of this, there will be time for ministers to chat in corridors and hotel rooms and Doha maybe on the agenda in these more informal and secretive chats.

There are almost 200 civil society groups and NGOs here this week and at a strategy meeting together this afternoon, we co-ordinated the various lobby meetings that groups would hold with their country’s delegation to present their case. Trade ministers will be presenting a three minute speech in the opening session and civil society groups will be trying to get their trade ministers to include some form of critique of the WTO and its role in getting us in this mess in the first place. We’ll see tomorrow if any do.

I struggled to get any interesting photos today as people sitting around a table in a meeting isn’t the most visually stimulating. I really like photos in blogs as the old adage goes, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ so here is a snapshot of a thousand (ok not quite a thousand) words of protest from around the world.




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