Representing Guyana's Interest overseas
July 31, 2002
Supachai Panitchpakdi. Sounds like the scientific name of a new pharmaceutical product. (One must not use the word "drug" because like the word "gay" the meaning has been fundamentally changed!).
The names are the names of the new Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and will soon be familiar world-wide, although one expects that it will shortened to "Dr Supa". He is a former deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. He ran for the post of Director General (DG) of the WTO three years ago and the contest was deadlocked between Mike Moore of New Zealand and himself. It was then decided to split the six-year term into two, with Mike Moore serving the first three years. Dr Supachai assumes the office in September.
The appointment is of major significance as it will be the first time that a citizen of the developing world heads one of the three global financial institutions (the other two being the World Bank and the IMF) which dominate the international economic system and have in many respects largely superseded the UN system.
In a searching interview on the BBC (Agenda 2lst July) the new DG dealt with a number of issues which are of special interest to Guyana.
First, he said he would expand training opportunities for Developing Countries' negotiators.
Second, he would seek resources and funding to enable the twenty-eight countries not represented in Geneva (Guyana is one of them) to go to Geneva from time to time.
Third, Special and Differential Treatment under the Trade Rules should be provided to certain vulnerable states not on a voluntary but a mandatory basis. Guyana and other Caricom States have a strong case for inclusion in the group of states which merit S&D treatment.
Fourth, he proposed that the WTO should work with the UN conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also located in Geneva. The significance of this proposal is that UNCTAD was the UN agency which was most supportive of the objectives of developing countries. Indeed it was said, and not without justice, that it functioned as the virtual secretariat of the Third World. Several of the great UN economists - Alister McIntyre, Havelock Brewster, Nassau Adams - served in very senior positions on UNCTAD. Latin America has provided several of the Secretaries General including the present holder of the office, the Brazilian diplomat and economist Ricupero.
Is Guyana in a position to take advantage of the diplomatic opportunities which the tenure of the new DG of the WTO will open up? The question is pertinent as it is Guyana whose Minister of Foreign Trade has been entrusted by the Caricom Council for Trade and Development (COTED) with the responsibilities for overseeing negotiations with the WTO - although Guyana has no diplomatic mission in Geneva.
It is the taking the advantage of such occasional or ad hoc opportunities (special groups, conferences etc) which is likely to become in the future the central arena for the diplomacy of small states.
When such opportunities occur it is more often than not the case that the diplomat or official lacks the required level of competence, and may even be someone who is considered next in line to get a free trip.
The structure of Guyana's diplomacy is rigid and old fashioned, focused on old style diplomatic missions headed by an Ambassador who increasingly tends not to be a trained career diplomat but a political appointee. Such early diplomacy was nevertheless remarkably successful in establishing Guyana's place in the world. On the major issue of the time namely the preservation of Guyana's territorial integrity against the claims and threat of aggression by Venezuela, Guyana's diplomacy mobilised global support especially through the solidarity with the huge Afro-Asian bloc of states. This was done through the great Third World movements. Such movements the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 - were focused significantly on action in the United Nations General Assembly where their objectives, translated into resolutions or declarations, could influence international opinion or lead to the creation of new international norms.
The predominant issues were political. Their negotiation involved political skills and the capacity to draft documents which forcefully expressed the solidarity of developing states.
The great Third World movements even including the African, Caribbean and Pacific (the ACP) grouping are today in disarray. Developing states even including India can no longer maintain a global stance. With the end of the Cold War and of the deadlock in the Security Council, the role of the General Assembly has dwindled almost into insignificance. Most importantly the issues at stake, mainly economic, are highly technical and can only be negotiated by highly trained specialists, with solidarity despite its high emotional value being of diminished significance.
Yet Guyana's diplomacy remains fixated so to speak in the old grooves. Thus, some four years ago a huge amount of resources (both funds and personnel) were spent on Guyana chairing the Group of 77. One has only got to ask oneself, what contribution is the G77 making to the current "life and death" negotiations (with the European Union, the WTO, and the FTAA) to see how pointless was the G77 exercise.
On the question of technical competence the attitude (shared by the other Caricom States) seems to be leave that to the RNM, which is at best a tiny agency with an immense task. Significantly, the OECS states are now thinking of their own RNM as they feel that the existing RNM does not deal adequately with their concerns.
Shortly after his assumption of the presidency after the last election, it may be recalled that President Jagdeo had spoken of the need to make Guyana's diplomacy more responsive to trade and investment promotion. However more than one year into the tenure of a new Foreign Minister there are no indications of efforts to restructure its diplomacy.
Reshaping the diplomacy of even a small state after thirty-six years of external representation is a large task, hardly to be dealt with in the compass of an editorial. Here only one dominant proposal is advanced to stimulate discussion and around which the rest can fall into place. It is as follows:
The Foreign Ministry should become the base for nearly all diplomatic initiatives, with the overseas Missions playing a much reduced role, mainly concerned with prestige and protocol and consular matters.
To play such an expanded role the Foreign Ministry should have on its staff a small corps of specialists with a dominance of economics but also including law and other strongly emerging disciplines such as environment. Their duties should be flexible enough to allow them to move overseas at short notice to wherever there is an emergency or opportunity. For example, if there is a legal issue at the UN in which Guyana has a vital interest, a legal specialist from the Foreign Ministry could be posted to NY for two or three months. Or when Dr Supa makes it possible to send a delegate to Geneva the Foreign Ministry's specialist in trade negotiations could go. Similarly specialists in other ministries should be trained in diplomacy and negotiation with a view to serving overseas in the same way.
It should also be considered whether in those cases where there is a real prospect of assistance, non-resident accreditation should be based in the ministry with some of its senior officials being accredited non-resident ambassadors. This might immediately lend towards the deepening of such relationships.
The way forward to such specialist diplomacy lies in training and this is where the Foreign Service Institute comes in. Enjoying generous donor grants (US $250,000 from People's Republic of China, US$70,000 from UNDP and US$25,000 from Norway) and with self accounting arrangements, the FSI has been unable to translate such resources and accounting flexibility into significant results. In cooperation with the UG two "classic" type courses in diplomacy have been held over a three-year period. While the association with the UG provides prestige, it at the same time lends itself to an academic bias rather than the needed practical orientation to diplomatic practice.
Now, announced last week, with a new Director in place there is need for an urgent rethink on courses. There may be a case for a modules approach (intensive 3 days) at several levels and which would be open to officials of other ministries and in some cases to the public. There should be courses on trade, tourism and investment promotion.
There would also be every advantage in holding short courses for particular groups in the society to make them aware of the difficulties of the international system in which Guyana must make its way. Trade Union misgivings in some quarters appear to flow from lack of understanding of the international monetary and trade constraints under which Governments, especially of small states, operate.
The FSI should see itself increasingly as a lab for mobilising training resources from local, regional and foreign sources including the WTO, UNCTAD, the IMF and the IDB.
The main impediment to flexibility and openness to new ideas in the FSI appears to be its current Board of Directors. Chaired by the Foreign Minister, of its eleven other members, five are officials of the Foreign Ministry, two others are permanent secretaries, another a senior official of the Office of the President with the only two non-officials being from UG and the Private Sector. As currently constituted the board amounts to little more than a rubber stamp for ministerial decisions and runs against current concerns about transparency and openness to the society.
Without effective diplomacy Guyana will be unable to survive as a viable state. The time has come for a diplomacy directed to bread and butter outcomes. The time is long overdue for a results-oriented diplomacy.