Cancun marked end of “old WTO,”
Beginning of true global negotiations

If the developing nation trade coalition that formed and gained power during the Cancun round holds, new trade paradigms will be forged.

By Mark Ritchie, President IATP

From the first moments of the meeting, the shape of the conflict between the United States and European Union and the developing world was easy to see. On issue after issue there was more or less the same situation. The US/EU negotiators would have one set of demands and a coalition of developing world governments would have a nearly opposite set of demands. The WTO secretariat would side with the US and EU. In agriculture, the grouping of third world countries came to be known as the Group of 21, or G-21 led by Brazil, India and China.

In response to the EU/US demands to expand the WTO to include a range of new issues, over 70 developing countries spoke out in strong opposition.

In some areas of specific concern, like the demand by West African nations for immediate help to end the global crisis of low cotton prices, the US/EU coalition offered studies and reports but no serious solutions.

After a round of strong objections from almost all developing countries, the WTO secretariat offered a second draft final declaration. It was almost exactly the same as the earlier version that had been rejected. This blatant disregard to the concerns of the developing countries led to an emotional rejection of not only the text but also of the undemocratic nature of the negotiations process itself – one that was being run without rules, procedures or transparency. The final press release from the civil society groups was headlined “Who Wrote This Text” and it included a strong attack on the lack of any process of accountability in the talks.

Mid-day on Sunday, September 14, the Third World governments in Cancun said that they had enough and called for an end to the talks. They totally rejected the second text and called for immediate adjournment.

New Era Ahead
What is important about this outcome from our perspective is that it signals the beginning of a new era at the WTO – the fulfillment of the promise of a truly inclusive world trade organization. The first signs of developing world resistance to the EU and the US took place in the closing minutes of the Seattle Ministerial. While some disagreed, I saw the Doha Round and the efforts of the developing world as another important step in this new development. Cancun, with the formation of the G-21 demonstrated conclusively that we are in a new era of trade policy.

In the past, these talks were a place where the US and EU would make deals between themselves and then impose these deals on the rest of the world. This is no longer possible. In the future we will have real negotiations between many different perspectives, coalitions and countries.

In addition, many Third World governments have now acknowledged civil society groups as valuable resources. During the five day meeting they often turned to these groups for help with analysis, information, technical details and advice. If partnerships between NGOs and Third World governments surfaced at the last WTO meeting in Doha when the two groups worked together to secure essential medicines for all people, they were solidified at Cancun.

While the full effect of the Cancun Ministerial has yet to be realized we have made progress towards a Fair Trade World. Here are the highlights:

On dumping (the practice of selling products at prices below their cost of production), there was some disappointment that no progress was made in reforming WTO rules to help spur greater enforcement in anti-dumping laws in agriculture. However, we did not lose ground. We were able to talk with many governments, reporters and NGOs about the importance of this issue and about some of the most confusing aspects such as the link to subsidies.

On protecting the Convention on Biological Diversity, there was no further erosion in the legal and institutional framework in relation to the WTO but there was little specific work on this matter during the week.

On preventing new issues, such as would have arisen were the Singapore issues allowed on the table, there was fantastic success. Nearly 100 of the WTO member nations eventually spoke out on this concern – a far cry from the solitary position of India on these issues at the previous meeting.

In conclusion, little ground was gained but none was lost which leaves us in excellent position to continue the fight for a world where every person has a fair chance at a decent livelihood no matter their affluence, status or home address.

Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Trade and Ag Policy (IATP), is an experienced international trade specialist. IATP provided a series of background papers on WTO issues that proved crucial for many attending the Cancun event, Ritchie reports.