Thursday, September 1, 2016

THE WAR SPREADS

Readers of Washington Trade Daily’s blog – not the newsletter – know well that the Obama Administration has been warring against WTD for the past six years.
Over that time the US Trade Representative has complained to others and directly to WTD that its reporting is biased and mostly incorrect, often making up stories with no basis in fact.  The thrust, WTD was been told by USTR officials, is that we are trying to undercut the whole fabric of the country – or at least that of the Obama Administration.
As a result WTD has found it more difficult than other Washington-based trade newsletters to gain cooperation from USTR – including its press “outreach” staff.  We have been excluded from press conferences and generally not told of news that is routinely directed to others – including our competitors.
How are we fighting the war?   We continue to carry out our responsibility of reporting news on trade as we see it without bias.  We don’t make things up and when we get things wrong – unintentionally – we quickly correct.

Now the war has spread.

Last week WTD received an urgent phone call from WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo – the first time I have ever been invited to speak to him.
After a few minutes of pleasantries, the DG got to the point.  The message:  Our 15-year veteran reporter in Geneva is a disaster and an embarrassment.  Like the publication he works for, we were told, Mr. Ravi Kanth makes things up, reports lies and ignores the facts.  Apparently – and most importantly – he is biased toward the viewpoint of developing countries.

Mr. Kanth is an Indian national and a damn good reporter who – like few reporters in Geneva or elsewhere for that matter – knows trade.

And WTD has gotten very few legitimate requests from Geneva or Washington for story corrections.  And when we did get them we made those corrections promptly.  Also, as in Washington, Ravi has been cut off from communicating with the apparatchik in
Geneva – to say nothing of the US mission there that officially runs the place.

But this is a different story.  See “The Three Stooges in Nairobi” blog below.

As I promised the DG, I won’t go into details of the short conversation.  

But he described to me two of the most distressing and shocking incidents with Mr. Kanth.  The most recent was a sharp question to the DG at his end-of-July press conference where our reporter asked him what chance does he have for reelection as Director General since he represents the interests of only a single member – a very powerful and large one.   He did not name that power as the United States.
Mr. Azevedo’s answer was that he represents all WTO members.
The question and response was contained in the copy which came to WTD, but we decided to edit it out because the response did not rise to the level of news.
Mr. Kanth did not ask the question out of malice – or even boredom.  He was repeating what a number of delegations in Geneva are asking – but not daring to mention to any WTO apparatchik.
Also upsetting to the DG, apparently, are opinion articles by Mr. Kanth critical of industrial nations’ too-powerful influence at the WTO.  He is also a regular contributor to the Third World Network – which do not appear in WTD.

Sometimes the simple truth simply hurts.


        But it is clear that Mr. Azevedo does not like the way our reporter frames questions or the manner in which he works.  Neither I nor Mr. Kanth is satisfied with any “say-nothing” written statement from any apparatchik in Geneva or Washington.  We are more interested in the truth.

Back to the conversation.

From the beginning it was apparent that Mr. Azevedo wanted to talk to me about Mr. Kanth.  After the conversation I asked him what he wanted me to do.  He said he didn’t know.  My blood began to boil.   (It was apparent that the Director General did not call “to praise Caesar, but to bury him.”)  I told him to think long and hard about what he wants and when he makes up his mind to call me back.  Click.   No response since.

I did the WTO Director General a big favor by hanging up on him since it spared him from digging deeper into self-incrimination.

Overall, the move by the top WTO bureaucrat was bad form for even a novice diplomat.

What was more surprising to me was that before becoming Director General three years ago Mr. Azevedo – as head of the Brazilian mission in Geneva – was a prime “source” of information for WTD.  He has known Mr. Kanth for upwards of a decade.

To me the whole scenario could have been written – and probably was – by US ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke who is the general in charge of the war against WTD.

So goes WTD’s latest adventure in trade reporting.


Jim Berger

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