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OAKLAND, Sep 1 2003 (IPS) - The failure of the WTO Fifth Ministerial in Cancun is a severe blow not just for the WTO but also for regional agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas, writes Anuradha Mittal, Co-Director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First. In this analysis for IPS, Mittal writes that the lack of attention to the legitimate concerns of the developing countries, the hunger of the US and the EU to capture world markets, and the mounting evidence that the free trade agreements have failed the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society, have alienated both the poor countries and civil society. Cancun offers an important lesson: strong arm tactics, which might have worked in the past for the US and the EU, will not work any more. There is clear agreement on one principle: No agreement is better than a bad agreement.
The failure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Fifth Ministerial in Cancun is a severe blow not just for the WTO but also for regional agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The lack of consensus on Singapore issues at the Ministerial, plagued by even deeper divisions over agriculture, may have been the immediate cause of collapse of talks, but the meeting’s collapse has broader and deeper roots.
The first cause is a major shift in the balance of power within the world. G-20+, the new alliance of developing countries with Brazil, India, and China at its heart, represents more than half the world’s population and some two-thirds of its farmers. The arrogant rhetoric of US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who dismissed the G-20+ as the ”grouping of the paralysed” and ”a group with no ability to negotiate”, backfired as the alliance united in its demand for the US and EU to eliminate agricultural subsidies.
Second, transparency and accountability are essential to any democratic decision-making process. The so called “Development” trade round launched in Doha in 2001 was supposed to address above all weaknesses in agricultural trade in order to ”foster development and poverty alleviation”. For the first three days, the Cancun Ministerial focused mainly on agriculture with alternative proposals put forward by the poor nations in response to the Ministerial draft that endorsed the US-EU agricultural position. The revised text, however, completely ignored their demands, further intensifying polarisation between the poor and rich nations. In addition, Europe’s insistence on inclusion of the Singapore issues -trade rules on investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement, and trade facilitation — without an explicit consensus from the member countries to start negotiations, added fuel to the fire. The question asked by all was, “what part of ‘no’ did the US and the EU not understand?
With Zoellick blaming the poor nations for the collapse, it is obvious that the US and the EU have not learnt from their failure in Cancun. In a press conference following the collapse of talks, Robert Zoellick sounded the US intention of bypassing the WTO entirely and instead forging ahead with regional and bilateral agreements. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, declared that the US will ”take note of those nations that played a constructive role in Cancun, and those nations that didn’t” — punishing and rewarding as necessary. This arrogance is bound to further aggravate the developing countries resistance against the ”Empire”.
Pascal Lamy, the European Trade Commissioner, responded by branding the WTO as ”a medieval organisation” and called for its fundamental reform. He conveniently forgot that following the Doha ministerial, proposals were put forward by the developing countries for establishing procedures and participatory processes for ministerials. It was the EU with other developed nations that blocked the decision based on these proposals!
And just before the Cancun ministerial, developing countries again tried to raise the issue. However, any attempts to make the WTO democratic or accountable have been consistently swept aside by the rich countries, which opt instead for the ”flexibility” of ”Green Rooms” that allow them to control trade negotiations.
Lack of attention to the legitimate concerns of the developing countries, the greed of the US and the EU to capture world markets, and the mounting evidence that the free trade agreements have failed the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society, have alienated both the poor countries and civil society.
Cancun offers a lesson: strong arm tactics, which might have worked in the past for the US and the EU, will not work any more. The walk out demonstrates that poor nations agree on one principle: No agreement is better than a bad agreement! (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)
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