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8th February, 2000
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On the D-G selection and the Seattle Ministerial

‘One of the most difficult chairmanships in the history of our organisation’

Farewell statement by H.E. Mr Ali Mchumo Chairperson of the WTO General Council
“ As this is the last meeting of the General Council that I will have the honour to chair, let me use this occasion first of all to thank al the Members of the WTO represented in the General Council for giving me the opportunity and honour to serve as Chairman of the General Council for the year 1999.”

I thank all of you not only for electing me to the Chair, but for your continued help and support throughout the difficult terrain we have travelled together in the past year. My thanks also go to all colleagues who served with me as chairpersons of the various bodies in the WTO for their outstanding contributions to the multilateral trading system.

Needless to say it would be impossible for me to discharge my functions as Chairman of the General Council without the dedicated support of the Secretariat, and I therefore wish to express my sincere gratitude to all members of the Secretariat and especially those with whom I worked more directly and closely.

In this regard I want first to sincerely thank Mr. David Hartridge who, as Director in Charge in the absence of a Director General, provided exemplary leadership to the Secretariat during the interegnum and was particularly helpful to me for his sincerity, objectivity, dedication and loyalty to the institution of Chairman of the General Council during the greater part of my Chairmanship when we had to run the WTO without a Director General and indeed when we had to devote all our energies to search for a new Director General.

I want also to thank Mr. Barthel-Rosa for his expertise and energy in ensuring that the Chairman says and does the right thing in managing the General Council and I also thank Mr. Evan Rogerson for his invaluable support during the preparatory process for the Seattle Ministerial Conference and beyond.

My gratitude to the Secretariat would not be complete without thanking the former Director General, Mr. Renato Ruggiero who was responsible for establishing such an efficient Secretariat and with whom I had the most cordial relationship as Chairman of the General Council.

I also wish to pay special tribute to our new Director General, Mike Moore who although he has been on the job for only the last few months of my Chairmanship, he has tremendously energised the Secretariat and has been such a good friend and a most agreeable person to work with. As I vacate the Chair, I urge him to continue the good work he has so ably started and I want to wish him all the best in the challenging tasks ahead of him.

I have been honoured to be Chairman of the General Council following eminent colleagues whose example in performance and conduct in office have been very inspiring. Although I have known all the past four WTO General Council Chairmen, two were particularly helpful to me: my immediate predecessor Ambassador John Weekes of Canada and Ambassador William Rossier of Switzerland.

I want to sincerely thank Ambassador Weekes who provided me with useful advice upon receiving the gavel from him and for all the time he was with us before assuming other responsibilities outside the WTO. Ambassador William Rossier deserves special gratitude, for, being the only past Chairman around, he has remained a ready reservoir of wisdom and institutional memory for the office of Chairman of General Council, and more specifically Ambassador Rossier has been particularly helpful to me during the earlier part of my Chairmanship when we were searching for a new Director General. I want on this occasion to publicly repeat my thanks to you William for your friendship, dedication to duty and to the multilateral trading system and for your ever readiness to provide useful advice and support whenever I needed it.

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The DG selection

The year 1999 was historic not only because it was the end of a millennium and the dawn of another, but historic for the WTO because of the unusual coincidence of major tasks that had to be addressed in the same year — the appointment of a new Director General and preparation for the launching of new negotiations for an improved multilateral trading system.

These two tasks and other related matters preoccupied us most during my term as Chairman and indeed the coincidence of these tasks could characterize my Chairmanship as one of the most, if not the most, difficult in the history of our organisation. To me being Chairman of the General Council at this time has provided me with the most instructive learning experience on a broad range of matters, an experience which I would not be able to get anywhere, even in the best Universities around the globe.

The long drawn out contest for a Director General has happily resulted in getting two excellent personalities who will occupy the post one after another and in this way the General Council which I chaired has had the unusual privilege of influencing the leadership of the Secretariat for another six years!! The preparations for the Third Ministerial Conference were equally arduous and the fact that we did not agree on a draft Ministerial Declaration here in Geneva contributing significantly to the failure to agree at Seattle underscores the crucial role that the General Council has in ensuring the success of any Ministerial Conference.

From the process of appointing a new Director General and from the experience of preparing for the Third Ministerial Conference and what subsequently happened at Seattle, important lessons can be drawn out and these lessons have to constitute an important agenda on the future of our Organisation and how it transacts its functions and business. Indeed we have already concluded that the system of appointing the Director General is archaic and unsatisfactory and that a new method must be instituted by September 2000. This is an important matter and I believe that my successor will lead us through the necessary consultations to a more acceptable and transparent system of appointing a Director General as well as a more balanced system of appointing Deputy Directors-General. On the broader concern of how best to manage the world trading system in the light of the present configuration of its membership reflecting various levels of development and a wide geographical variation, Seattle has provided a wake up call for all of us to reflect and re-examine how we need to evolve a more inclusive and participatory system of decision making even when consensus remains the basic principle of decision making. Indeed, the institutional reforms that need to be made to the multilateral trading system is one of the major concerns that will be addressed in the consultations that we have agreed to undertake in the immediate future.


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The lessons of Seattle

Without prejudging the details of those consultations aimed at improving the management and operation of the world trading system, let me take the liberty to highlight what I consider to be among the most crucial elements to be taken into account. Firstly, in the forthcoming consultations we need to reflect more carefully how to ensure that the principle of consensus which remains non-negotiable, continues to be an asset rather than a liability in ensuring efficient and fair decision making. It has to be recognised that while consensus is the best device to ensure the balance of interests of all members since it is a guarantee against the so-called “tyranny of the majority” and “the bullying by the powerful”, we need to devise rules or provide creative interpretation of the existing rules so that, the WTO does not suffer from the image of being an organisation incapable of making decisions. I am far from suggesting that we should discard the principle of consensus in decision making since, like democracy, consensus is the least unsatisfactory method of ensuring balanced interests of all. What I am suggesting is that while we uphold the principle of consensus in decision making, let us think of how we can strike a balance between fairness and efficiency in our decision making so that consensus is not an excuse for indecisiveness or perpetuation of the vested interests of the few.

Secondly, and related to the first concern raised above, we need to address the perennial problem of how to ensure in the decision making process of the WTO the right balance between transparency, democracy, inclusiveness and representativity among the entire membership of the organisation on the one hand and efficiency in reaching an agreement on the other. Indeed this question came up very frequently as we were preparing for Seattle and it came out again more forcefully at the end of the Seattle Ministerial Conference. Clearly, as confirmed by the concluding remarks of the Chairperson of the Seattle Ministerial Conference, the traditional “green rooms” seem to be unsatisfactory, and the question now is what version of representativity is acceptable, whether a system of “core group — open ended consultations” is feasible or perhaps a blend of such open ended consultations and an improved and a “representative green room” could do the trick. There is no easy answer to this problem but certainly it is an issue that needs our immediate attention if we are to restore the credibility to our Organisation.

Thirdly, whatever institutional reforms are made in the WTO, the basic premise of the Organisation as a member-driven organisation must be preserved and in practical terms the primacy of the General Council as a body representing all members must be recognised vis-Ó-vis the Secretariat which is supposed to service the Membership, and by the same token the institutional role the Chairman of the General Council must be respected without compromising or minimising the role of the Director General as head of the Secretariat.

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LDCs and Africa

Let me make my final observation, and this is on the notion of making developing countries and especially LDCs (least-developed countries) and Africa feel a true sense of belonging to the World Trade Organisation and here I think I can be excused if I now speak as an African coming from a least developed country. On this I can only repeat what I said on 16 February 1998 when I was assuming the Chairmanship, and this is what I said, if I may quote myself:

“Indeed, by this act (i.e. of electing me as Chairman of the General Council) you are sending the correct signals to the international trading community and to those interested in the multilateral trading system that this Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, belongs to all of us, the largest and the smallest Members, the most developed countries and the least developed countries … Certainly, the equality of ownership of the WTO must of necessity be manifested in the equality of participation in the affairs of the Organization, including taking up leadership positions in its various bodies. Of course what remains yet to be achieved is the more meaningful equality and inclusiveness whereby all countries will equally benefit from the multilateral trading system and … that must remain our main objective as we strengthen and perfect the multilateral trading system as we enter the next millennium we are about to start”.

I said this a year ago before the new millennium had started and this concern I expressed then, remains as valid today as it was twelve months ago. What this means is that the sense of belonging and involvement that is necessary to stem the tide of further marginalization of Africa and LDCs can only be meaningful and genuine if the developed countries put their resources where their mouths are, as they are clearly committed to do, and if this involvement for the LDCs and Africa can go beyond mere tokenism.

Among other things, this requires a fundamental cultural and perceptive change in the mindset of all concerned including members of the Secretariat so that a more positive and sympathetic orientation towards LDCs and Africa can be engendered. It is for this reason that it is important that technical assistance be given more generously and the Special and differential treatment provisions in favour of developing and least developed countries in the Uruguay Round Agreements be fully operationalized in the letter and spirit, and that is why it is important also that the decisions of the High Level Meeting on the Integrated Framework for LDCs be implemented. The efforts to transform the Secretariat so that it reflects the composition of the WTO’s membership is commendable and Director General Mike Moore is to be congratulated and commended for appointing the first Deputy Director General from Africa and from an LDC, but we expect this appointment to be the beginning of a more serious effort to make the contribution and role of Africa and LDCs in the WTO to be more meaningful and again to go beyond mere tokenism. I am glad to note that during my Chairmanship, Members have clearly shown their serious commitment to ensuring that the WTO truly belongs to us all, LDCs and Africa included and I expect that spirit and commitment to continue in future in greater earnest.

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Finally ...

Finally, let me end as I began, by thanking you all once again for giving me the opportunity to serve you and serve our Organisation for the past one year and thank you for your support throughout the difficult year. It was an honour for me personally, an honour for my country Tanzania and an honour for my Continent. I can certainly look back with pride what we, through the General Council, have been able to achieve together, such as the accession to the WTO of three more countries (Estonia, Georgia and Jordan) and the commencement of negotiations for accession of three new applicants, Bosnia and Herzegonia, Bhutan and Lebanon; overseeing the implementation of the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, and steps towards the promotion of the institutional image of the WTO these are among the accomplishments of the past year.

At the same time, I regret that there is a lot of work that we were not able to finish and which I trust my successor will carry forward to completion. One such unfinished work is the conclusion on the long standing question regarding observer status for international organisations. I do hope that this issue will be finalised as soon as possible so that it can enhance efforts to provide more transparency to our Organisation. Of course the biggest disappointment is that we were not able to conclude the Third Ministerial Conference at Seattle and so we were unable to launch the expected multilateral trade negotiations at the beginning of this Millennium and during my Chairmanship as we had expected. However, I do leave the Chair with the optimism that my successor will be able to lead us to the day we shall see the launching of the new trade negotiations which would happen sooner than later.

Before leaving the podium therefore, let me congratulate the new Chairman, Ambassador Kare Bryn whom we shall elect in a few moments to chair the General Council and let me also congratulate all other new Chairpersons who will be elected to chair the various bodies. I am particularly gratified that I shall be passing over the gravel to Ambassador Bryn of Norway, a person who has distinguished himself in his previous diplomatic career and in his contribution to the work of our organisation and coming from a country which is well known in its commitment to assist developing and especially least developed countries in the WTO.

Taking account of the enormity and complexity of the work that lies ahead, there can be no better person to guide us through than Ambassador Bryn who enjoys the undivided support of the entire Membership of this Organisation, and who in his short tenure as Chairman of the DSB has impressed us all with his expertise, dedication and sense of fairness and balance. I wish to pledge my support to you Ambasador Bryn for the success of your tenure in office and I appeal to all Members to give Ambassador Bryn the support he deserves to carry out the mandate we are entrusting on him for this coming year at the beginning of a new millennium.

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