Lame duck’ chairman of WTO agriculture talks digs in

Maybe the chair­man­ship has gone to his head. The NZ Gov­ern­ment has fired it’s Ambas­sador to WTO, the Chair­man of the Agri­cul­ture nego­ti­at­ing group. But Tim Gross­er has returned to Gene­va claim­ing he’s still got a role in the Doha nego­ti­a­tions as the Chair of the Agri­cul­ture Group.  Thanks Tim! Just what we need, the lame insist­ing that they can con­tin­ue to lead the (almost) blind bq. New Zealand’s top trade nego­tia­tor, Tim Gros­er, has been dumped as ambas­sador to the World Trade Organ­i­sa­tion. Mr Gros­er is stand­ing as a Nation­al Par­ty can­di­date in the gen­er­al election—a deci­sion Trade Nego­ti­a­tions Min­is­ter Jim Sut­ton today described as betray­al.” (“The New Zealand Herald”: Gross­er announced his deal with the oppo­si­tion Nation­al Par­ty back home in NZ before the end of his appoint­ment as Ambas­sador in Gene­va. He must have expect­ed a sour reac­tion from the NZ Gov­ern­ment: the NZ Prime Min­is­ter, who says that she has “lost con­fi­dence” in Gross­er, endorsed the deci­sion to with­draw his Ambas­sado­r­i­al com­mis­sion. But Gross­er coun­tered that his job as Chair of the Nego­ti­at­ing group was not a NZ appoint­ment and that he expect­ed to con­tin­ue in it. The rules on Chair­man­ship of WTO Com­mit­tees are not elab­o­rate. The “decision”: tak­en in Feb­ru­ary, 2002, just after the launch of the Doha nego­ti­a­tions con­tem­plates only gov­ern­ment offi­cials as Chairs but specif­i­cal­ly pro­vides that they need not be res­i­dent in Gene­va. Accord­ing to the NZ Her­ald, the NZ law says that a pub­lic ser­vant who stands for an seat in Par­lia­ment may retain a pub­lic ser­vice posi­tion if he/she is unsuc­cess­ful at the polls. So pre­sum­ably he can claim to be eli­gi­ble under WTO rules to remain as Chair of the Agri­cul­ture nego­ti­at­ing group. It’s anoth­er mat­ter how­ev­er whether the Mem­bers of WTO will want Gross­er to stay on. In favor of keep­ing him in the post until July is that anoth­er per­son would have an her­culean task to com­plete the con­sul­ta­tions lead­ing to the ‘approx­i­ma­tions’ of the final agree­ment that are sup­posed to be pre­sent­ed to the nego­tia­tors in ten weeks’ time. The Agri­cul­ture nego­ti­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing to strug­gle along but the Mem­bers are grop­ing for con­sen­sus on mat­ters such as cuts to tar­iff bar­ri­ers and ‘sen­si­tive’ prod­ucts. In this role, it hard­ly mat­ters that Gross­er is no long the NZ Ambas­sador, only that he has been the cen­ter of the long series of dif­fi­cult con­sul­ta­tions on the ‘approx­i­ma­tion’. In this role he has held the Mem­bers’ trust and hopes. In favor of dump­ing him, as the NZ gov­ern­ment has done, is that all the nego­tia­tors must now ques­tion the bal­ance and insight of some­one who choos­es, as Gross­er has cho­sen, short­ly before the com­ple­tion of such a high-pro­file and sen­si­tive role—given to him in trust by the Mem­bers of WTO—to quit his job.

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