Parliamentary Conference on the WTO in Geneva
MPs intend to enhance the transparency of WTO activities
The members of the 76 parliaments gathered in Geneva on the occasion of the parliamentary conference jointly organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the European Parliament are convinced of the need for a parliamentary dimension of the WTO. The final declaration adopted in Geneva after a two-day meeting stated that "our objective is to enhance the transparency of WTO activities".
| Mr. Carlos Westendorp, Chairman of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy of the European Parliament. Photo IPU/H. Salgado |
The MPs present in Geneva declared their wish to promote further trade liberalisation which should take into account national development policies within an equitable rules-based trading system, adding that "the accession of new countries to the WTO is crucial to enable it to become a truly universal organisation. Our goal is to promote trade that benefits people everywhere, enhances development and reduces poverty".
The legislators lauded the objectives set out in the Doha Development Agenda, which puts the concerns of the developing countries at the centre of the multilateral trading system and gives them pride of place in the present round of negotiations. "We welcome the fact that the Doha mandate tackles developing country concerns about access to export markets. We applaud the stated intent to phase out agricultural export subsidies, and we acknowledge that the establishment of the Global Trust Fund, to which every developed country should contribute, will greatly increase the resources available for technical assistance in the area of implementation", they declared.
On a more critical note, the MPs expressed their misgivings about developments that have occurred since the Doha Ministerial Meeting. "We regret that the deadlines on special and differential treatment for developing countries, and on making the TRIPS Agreement more flexible in order to improve access to medicines, have not been met. An alternative emergency solution for certain pandemics must be implemented".
"Trade distorting practices are unacceptable"
The MPs were also concerned at the lack of progress on the fundamental issue of enhancing real access to markets, stating that "it is crucial that agreement is reached on reducing barriers to trade in the field of agriculture, textiles and clothing. Agricultural support in wealthy countries, taken globally, is about four times the amount that is paid out in development assistance to the poor nations of the world. We consider that such trade distorting practices, and their social consequences, are unacceptable".
Legislators pledged to raise the issues in their parliaments and engage their respective trade negotiators in a dialogue. At the same time, they agreed to continue the ongoing parliamentary process relating to the WTO, especially in the lead-up to the forthcoming Ministerial Meeting in Cancun (Mexico).
The MPs stressed their shared conviction that the days when foreign policy, and more specifically trade policy, were the exclusive domain of the executive branch are over. The parliaments resolved to participate more in the running of public affairs that transcend national borders, declaring that a parliamentary interface was necessary to ensure better representation of citizens in the multilateral negotiating process.
Chilean Senator Sergio Páez, President of the IPU Council :
"Parliaments have a special role in making the international trading system
more open, more equitable, more predictable and non-discriminatory"
"Parliaments have a special role in making the international trading system more open, more equitable, more predictable and non-discriminatory. The IPU is convinced that parliamentary involvement can help make the WTO more transparent and inclusive, and therefore more widely understood and supported", declared the President of the IPU Council, Chilean Senator Sergio Páez.
"The past two years have been packed with important international events and developments, many of which have had a considerable impact on trade relations. The global challenge of terrorism, the prolonged decline of markets, the aggravation of regional conflicts, and the looming prospect of a war in Iraq continue to make headlines which leave nobody indifferent", added Mr. Páez.
He stressed that as politicians, members of parliament are keenly aware of the significance of these events. "As elected representatives of the people, we are also conscious of the growing sentiment of public discontent with the consequences of globalization and particularly with trade policies. For better or for worse, these policies are embodied by the WTO, which is often portrayed as the major tool for pushing globalization. In a democracy, such criticisms cannot be simply dismissed: they require dialogue and qualified answers".
Mr. Carlos Westendorp (Spain), Chairman of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy of the European Parliament :
"Providing the multilateral trade system with a process in which MPs
are able to express their ideas and concerns about multilateral trade"
The Chairman of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy of the European Parliament, Mr. Carlos Westendorp, recalled that for many years, MPs have wanted to give the multilateral trading system a process in which they, as representatives of the people, can express their ideas and concerns about multilateral trade. "For many years, we have been working with the IPU towards this objective; we are convinced that we have to give a parliamentary dimension to the WTO in order to increase its transparency and improve the democratic legitimacy of its activities".
Mr. Westendorp explained that the MPs gathered in Geneva would be debating major issues on the trade negotiating agenda and the need to promote free trade through clearly established rules.
Mr. Westendorp regretted that "trade negotiations are not progressing as we might wish. It is therefore very important that MPs from Member countries of the WTO send a firm message from this conference here in Geneva to the trade negotiators in order to give them a clear idea of what the representatives of the people are seeking ".
As to the idea of giving a parliamentary dimension to the WTO, Mr. Westendorp indicated that the MPs in Geneva would be looking at the most effective way to achieve their goal. "There are many options, one of them being, in the long term, to give WTO a permanent assembly, but there is another, this conference, which enables us to work together, maybe once a year, and on the occasion of WTO ministerial meetings, in order to keep track of WTO activities, continue the dialogue with government negotiators and exchange experiences and ideas that parliaments, as representatives of people, can transmit to the negotiators. We will inaugurate a process of meetings so that government negotiators can become aware of what the parliamentarians think".
Mr. Francisco Thompson-Flôres (Brazil), Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) :
"Parliamentarians can help explain the benefits of the trading system
and help citizens cope with the complexities of globalization"
The WTO Deputy Director-General, Mr. Francisco Thompson-Flôres, said that "right from the beginning, parliamentarians were involved with the WTO. Parliaments had to ratify the results of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations before their governments could join the WTO. Since then, parliamentarians have regularly formed part of national delegations to ministerial conferences and parliamentary involvement with the WTO has intensified through initiatives such as the meetings of parliamentarians in Seattle and Doha and the IPU's conference on trade issues held two years ago in Geneva".
Mr. Thompson-Flôres added : "Seattle brought many lessons. Thankfully, the lessons were well-learnt as WTO Members and the Secretariat regrouped and began the long march to Doha and now on to Cancun. I believe we can all take pride in changes made to the way the WTO operates. We are now more inclusive in our processes and are doing much more to ensure smaller and poorer WTO Members can participate in our negotiations. We are cooperating with international and regional agencies more closely than ever before. We have made real progress too in our efforts to enhance the WTO's image and engage civil society".
In his concluding remarks, the WTO Deputy Director General said that parliamentarians could help explain the workings and benefits of the trading system, help citizens understand and cope with the complexities of globalization and encourage greater awareness and informed debate on international trade issues. "As legitimate representatives of the people, you provide an important interface between the people, civil society and governments".
Interview with Mr. Renzo Imbeni (Italy), Vice-President of the European Parliament|
"Strengthening parliament means strengthening democracy. And when parliaments grow weaker, there is a danger that democracy may grow weaker".
| From left to right : Mr. Renzo Imbeni, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mr. Sergio Páez, President of the IPU Council, and Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary General of the IPU, at the press conference during the parliamentary conference on the WTO. Photo IPU/H. Salgado |
Q : How would you rate the importance of the joint IPU/European Parliament Conference on the WTO?
Renzo Imbeni: It is important because for some time now, and more particularly since the Seattle Conference, we have been thinking of giving a parliamentary dimension to the World Trade Organization, a governmental organisation. The government delegations that negotiate at the WTO report directly to their respective governments. At the WTO parliamentary conference in Geneva, we decided to gather information on how the governments of all WTO member countries report to their respective parliaments. This meeting is important because united by friendship and solidarity, parliamentarians from different countries of the world have decided to work together, to reform the WTO so to speak, to make it more transparent, easier to understand and more visible as far as citizens are concerned. Many of the anti-globalisation demonstrations are due to the fact that very few citizens are familiar with the decision-making process, because it is not visible. The fundamental role of parliaments is to oversee action taken by governments, acting on behalf of their citizens. Granted, this is hardly possible at the world level, and we do not intend to create a sort of WTO parliament that would oversee representatives of governments. What we do have in mind is a forum for discussion, for monitoring steps taken by the WTO, which can be useful when it comes to briefing the public on the objectives of the WTO, whether they be positive objectives or critical ones from elsewhere.
Q : Should parliaments be more active on the international political scene?
R.I.: I believe so, for parliament is the fundamental expression of democracy. Even if we know that it is not enough, citizens express their will by voting; they elect the people who represent them, and parliamentarians in turn decide, by a majority, what the government of a given country should be, on the basis of the votes cast by its citizens. Strengthening parliament therefore means strengthening democracy. And when parliaments grow weaker, there is a danger that democracy may grow weaker.
Q : Do you feel parliaments are on the defensive?
R.I.: Today, the problem is different, because with economic and financial globalisation, decision-making power has shifted from the national level of democracy, as we know it, to the supranational level. This implies that national parliaments are less able to oversee decision-making centers at the world level. Today, there is an enormous historical problem: how can we ensure that admittedly legitimate decisions taken inside international organizations do not de facto limit the powers of the national parliament? When a WTO decision affects the health conditions of 250 million persons living in ten or twelve countries, what power do the parliaments of these countries wield? That is the question. And that is the question which, in our modest way, we have tried to answer by acting on the supranational level.