The grassroots agenda at Cancun: 10 recommendations

More background on the Cancun meeting:
The WTO: Its history and role
The WTO at Cancun: What’s at stake?

International policies should support, not inhibit, sustainable development. The Fifth Ministerial in Cancun presents a key opportunity for governments at the WTO to choose this path. WTO members will decide the shape of trade rules that will govern us for the next several decades – it is critical that they get it right. Here are some immediate first steps the WTO should take at Cancun:

  1. Enforce Agriculture Dumping Rules — Governments need to commit to rules that promote fair, undistorted trade by getting rid of export dumping. This means prohibiting the export of products at prices below the cost of production plus a reasonable return, eliminating export subsidies, curbing export credit use, disciplining oligopolies in agricultural markets and enforcing existing codes of conduct on the use of food aid.

  2. Intellectual Property Rights — The Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement should be removed from the WTO. There are too many unresolved conflicts between TRIPs and the right to health, food and other human rights. Moreover, the WTO was established to facilitate trade, not enforce monopoly rights.

  3. Food Safety — The WTO should respect floors for minimum standards, not set ceilings that restrict the ability of countries to set stronger standards to protect public health. Services — Basic public services like education, water, sanitation and health should be kept out of the WTO. These services are too important to the well being of people around the world to set a global, one-size-fits-all set of rules.

  4. Implementation — It has become clear that several of the Uruguay Round Agreements paid inadequate attention to the needs of developing countries. Before seeking to engage developing countries in negotiations on new sectors, developed countries need to commit to full implementation of existing commitments and, where needed, practical amendments to ensure they contribute to the WTO’s fundamental objective of sustainable development and enhanced human welfare.

    Goals for Cancun: Something to think about while you're lying on the beach.
  5. Investment — Global investment rules must respect the public interest. Development priorities must have precedent over transnational corporations’ drive to maximize their return and broaden their global reach.

  6. Multilateral Environmental Agreements — WTO rules should not override (MEAs designed to address global environmental problems such as biosafety, climate change and hazardous waste. These and other MEAs should be recognized by the WTO as authoritative and binding international law amongst the parties.

  7. End Environmentally Damaging Subsidies — The WTO must respect domestic environmental regulations designed to protect the public interest. Assessment of appropriate regulations must consider their effectiveness in meeting their stated goals, not just their impact on potential trade.

  8. Labor and Human Rights — The WTO needs to achieve coherence and consistency with the goals agreed upon through the UN system, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The weight of the UN and its specialized agencies, including the ILO, needs to be increased relative to that of the WTO, not least to ensure the WTO meets its founding objectives, including that of improving human welfare. A closer link and coordination between the WTO and other international institutions, including the ILO, with reciprocal observer status, must be put in place.

  9. Institutional Reform — To effectively change the way it operates, the WTO Secretariat should: 1) internalize the “mandate” of the WTO to facilitate sustainable development, raise living standards and provide employment through trade; 2) act in a neutral fashion and not simply echo the positions of its most influential members; 3) allow developing countries to design their technical assistance programs that enable them to decipher their own trade positions and interests; 4) assess how the WTO can become a more balanced, transparent and accountable institution so that the voices of the less powerful countries are better reflected in the decision-making process.

  10. Decision-making — The WTO membership must devise clear and accountable rules for decision-making such as: 1) selection of chairs should be based on nomination at an open and minuted meeting; 2) procedural deadlock should be dealt with by voting; 3) the Draft Ministerial Declaration should not be allowed into the Ministerial based on the “understanding” of the chair, but must accurately reflect the diverging positions of the membership in brackets; 4) all meetings at the WTO should be open to all members. If smaller meetings are necessary, then minutes of the various meetings must be shared; 5) members should be given up to two weeks to comment on new drafts of negotiations so that they have time to confer with their capitals.

Reprinted with permission from the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy. IATP is producing several white papers leading up to Cancun that cover in more depth many of the issues mentioned in this brochure. Those white papers and other information about the Cancun Ministerial can be found at: