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
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
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
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