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(DV) Sharma: Pascal Lamy -- The Politics of Consensus







Pascal Lamy: The Politics of Consensus
by Devinder Sharma
May 21, 2005

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True to the underlying spirit of “non-transparency”, unfairness and injustice that continues to prevail through “greenroom” negotiations, arm-twisting and coercion, the  former European Union trade chief Pascal Lamy has emerged as the “consensus” candidate to head the beleaguered World Trade Organization (WTO).

“Consensus” in WTO parlance stands for autocracy. The multilateral organization, which swears in the name of one country-one vote, has refrained from using the democratic course of action for selection of its chief as well as for its trade negotiations and decisions since the 1950s. Most of its decisions are agreed to upon by “consensus” by a few of the major players and then imposed on the rest of the membership.

Pascal Lamy’s selection as director general is the outcome of a power play that relies on subverting the process of democracy and justice. Lamy’s rival, Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay, was the last to bow out of the race when told that his candidature would not attract “consensus” among the delegates of the 148-nation trade body. “Consensus” allows the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- the richest trading block -- to sway the decisions in its favor. It upholds the commercial interests of the mercantile capitalist class.

Costa Rica, one of the bitterest critics of Lamy, too remained subdued in its reaction and issued a politically correct statement to welcome the new chief.

While Carlos conceded defeat saying that he respected the majority decision, another candidate in the race, Jaya Krishna Cuttaree from Mauritius, who had stepped down earlier, criticized the selection process. In a guarded statement, he told the Associated Press: “The selection process leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. I think we have to look again at this process.”    

The OECD on the other hand ensured that the controversial selection process is also headed by a delegate from a developing country. Kenyan Ambassador Amina C. Mohammed donned the robe thereby providing the much needed credibility to the selection process. No wonder, the secret criteria of selection that weighed in favor of Lamy was merely a reflection of the way the negotiations have so far been hijacked in favor the developed countries. The concept of democracy that the WTO preaches, through consensus, is to uphold the commercial interests of the mercantile capitalist class.

Unfortunately, the developing countries, which form two-thirds of the membership, should have known this. There is no plausible reason why the developing countries could not find a suitable candidate to head the trade body. Dividing themselves into blocks -- G-20, G-33 and G-90 -- most of the developing countries had fragmented their approach, thinking and actions also on the same lines. The age-old unwritten principle of “divide and rule” therefore came in handy for OECD to make it easy for Lamy to sail through.

Pascal Lamy was the only candidate from the developed countries. The other three came from the developing world -- Brazil, Mauritius and Uruguay. While Brazil is part of the G-20, Mauritius and Uruguay are members of the G-33. Ironically, a majority of the G-20 countries did not support the Brazilian candidate, Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa. For instance, India and Thailand, both members of G-20, had officially backed Lamy. Mauritius and Uruguay also did not receive much backing from the G-33, and in fact failed to garner enough support from their fellow members from their respective continents. If developing countries, reeling under the colonial mindset, are unable to repose confidence in themselves they have no reason to cry foul. 

No wonder, Lamy has always been unsure of how long the developing country unity would last in the ongoing trade negotiations. 

Emerging victorious, France’s Lamy, expected to succeed Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand on Sept 1, said that he would respect the “diversity” of all members’ views on sensitive topics and added that he would strive to seek a “consensus” on issues such as agriculture, one of the areas that have bitterly divided nations at the trade talks.

“Consensus” therefore remains the over-arching domain under which Lamy promises to work. The depravity of “consensus” building however has acquired a special meaning for the rich and industrialized countries who have managed to foster an unjust trade regime on the developing countries. After the failure of the Seattle Ministerial, the WTO managed to stage a coup of sorts by opting for Ministerial talks at a place (at Doha in Qatar) which did not allow for freedom of expression. Public opinion, which is the hallmark of a democracy, was therefore buried at the altar of trade and development.   

July Framework 2004, after the failure of Cancun Ministerial in Sept 2003, therefore was a clever ploy by Lamy and his US counterpart, Robert Zoellick, to shift the decision making platform from the Ministerial to the General Council. Although the July Framework has no legal sanctity it has the more important political backing. Unlike the failed Ministerial at Seattle and Cancun that did provide a setback to the trade negotiations, the outcome of the forthcoming WTO Ministerial at Hong Kong in December therefore would mean a little to the formulation of a trade treaty by the end of 2006 or early 2007.  

Developing countries negotiators have once again failed to understand the implications of consensus building exercise. Such was the debauchery of “consensus” agreement this time, that the developing countries have allowed the rich countries to increase their agricultural subsidies and at the same time agreed to further open up their markets. This was achieved through a “consensus” at the WTO general council in July 2004. Lamy was an undisputed architect of the July Framework agreement that actually tricked India and Brazil in the process of reaching a consensus.

Ironically, Lamy had all along taken a tough stand on protecting agricultural subsidies in Europe. He had managed to ensure that the July Framework cannot question the legitimacy of subsidy entitlements of European farmers. The subsidy that a farmer in Europe received in 2000-02 has become his personal entitlement and under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he or she will continue to get that subsidy every year till 2013. 

I remember when Lamy earlier made the “hidden” intentions clear during his quick visit to India soon after the Doha Ministerial. “Who gave you the impression that we are going to reduce agriculture subsidies? Let me make it clear that EU will not be reducing farm subsidies in the years to come except for what has been agreed upon. I am committed to keep my seven million farmers on the farm,” he told a group of civil society representatives. “And how will India gain if I reduce subsidies as a result of which the number of farmers in Europe climbs down to three million?” he asked.

When asked how India will protect the livelihood of its 600 million farmers if the EU does not eliminate farm subsidies, he quipped: “That’s for your government to decide”.

With Pascal Lamy at the helm, agriculture will no longer be the bone of contention. He knows how to use the “consensus” approach to shift the focus to new issues. Already developing countries, probably suffering from negotiations-fatigue, have moved on from the farm subsidies to ad valorem tariff equivalents. Any further shift from the issue of “zero tolerance” for OECD agriculture subsidies will spell a death sentence for millions of small and marginal farming communities in the developing world. Imposing this by consensus will for sure lead to social chaos and upheaval the world has never witnessed.

Any consensus on agriculture has to begin by phasing out or eliminating the European agriculture subsidies, something that Lamy had strongly defended in his earlier avataar.  As long as the subsidies remain in the OECD countries, the developing world needs to seek restoration of the quantitative restrictions and tariffs so as to protect their hard-earned food sovereignty. That’s the only way to make poverty and hunger history.

Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst. He is also the author of the best selling GATT to WTO: Seeds of Despair. He can be reached at:

Other Articles by Devinder Sharma

* Bhagwati, Globalization and Hunger
* Literacy and Child Deaths: The New Hindu Growth Rate
* WTO: The Dope Trick

WTO: Faulty Frame, Savage Results
* Stopping the Rot: Hunger is Reflection of Policies That Benefit the Few