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The Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference
Cancún, Mexico from 10 to 14 September 2003

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Daily Reports (see reports from other days by clicking here)

Sunday September 14, 2003

WTO Talks Collapse as the World’s Poorest Countries Demand to be Heard
Amber McNair, University of Toronto

At 3 p.m. on September 14, it appears that the WTO talks had come to a standstill as least developed countries refused to budge on their positions.

Delegates at a U.S. press briefing confirmed that talks had been focused on the controversial Singapore issues — a position that the world’s poorest countries are dead set against. The Singapore issues include investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. Developing countries, in particular, the ACP-AU-LDC [African, Caribbean and Pacific countries–African Union–Less Developed Countries — a group of more than 90 countries] have stated from the beginning of this week’s meetings that they will not negotiate on these issues until consensus has been reached on agriculture and cotton.

A new draft text was released on September 13 in the hopes of moving the issues forward, but its content has revealed that the talks have simply been a conversation among people not listening to one another. The Norwegian trade minister commented late on September 13 that the only party happy with the new text is the United States. Indeed, this appears to be the case. While nearly every country has voiced concern about the second draft, it was understood as completely unacceptable to the most poor. In the end, the talks broke down over agriculture only indirectly: most countries wanted agreement on key agricultural issues before talks moved to other issues. The ACP-AU-LDC countries collectively said no and walked away from the negotiating table. Without consensus, talks will not continue. The Fifth Ministerial has therefore reached its end with no agreement. This so-called development round is expected to continue until January 2005, the deadline for Doha negotiations.

Tanzanian delegate Rebbecca John Muna expressed disappointment that things did not work out but said “We are fighting for the rights of the poor and we managed not to give in at the expense of thousands of people. For the first time, we got together on things that are important to us.”

Representatives of the G22 group of developing countries (including Brazil, Argentina, India and South Africa) said that the talks are not over. From their perspective, talks are just beginning. The group is disappointed in the failure of the Ministerial but feels that as a bloc they have been very successful at achieving solidarity to strengthen their negotiating position for future discussions. A Brazilian representative to the G22 stated that the “pieces will be picked up and negotiations will go on.” Not at Cancun, but elsewhere in the months to come.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, has said: “At every stage of the process, the United States have been ready, willing and able to negotiate. I wish I could say the same of some of the other WTO members....By insisting on rigid positions, a few nations have put prospects for world economic growth and development on indefinite hold. Their intransigence has squandered an opportunity to raise millions of people out of poverty and improve the lot of farmers, ranchers, workers, and consumers around the world.”

However, it appears that the move by the least developed countries speaks for people the world over — not just in the 90 countries represented by the alliance. A group of farmers from around the world met on September 13 to express their thoughts on the draft text released that day. George Naylor, a farmer from Iowa, argued that his interests were not represented by the U.S. trade positions and that public statements made to that effect are made by large agri-food corporations. He, along with farmers from Japan, Brazil and Ghana, were “indignant and disappointed” by the text.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. We will have to keep a close eye on negotiations in the weeks and months to come to see if and how this exploding legitimacy crisis is negotiated.

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