Corrected Repetition: The Meaning of Cancun

September 1, 2003

By Anuradha Mittal

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.