Lines Drawn At Cancun
10 September 2003
and the United States - so often economic enemies - arrive at crucial
world trade talks today lined up against some of the poorer nations,
insisting that developing countries must make their share of concessions.
The Mexican beach
resort of Cancun will host delegations from the 146 nations represented
in the World Trade Organisation who face the task of breathing life
into flagging talks on global trade.
Yesterday the first
protesters marched in the streets a little way from the five-star hotels
occupied by diplomats and politicians. About 15,000 activists are expected.
One of the first protests was staged on a beach when activists stripped
and spelt out "No WTO" in the sand with their bodies.
Behind the security
cordon most delegates are determined to avoid a repeat of the deadlock
of the Seattle summit four years ago, something that the EU's trade
negotiator, Pascal Lamy, says with understatement would "not be
good news for the world economy". But to keep alive hopes of an
overall deal by the end of next year, the delegates will have to overcome
a host of obstacles. And the negotiation is polarised between rich and
poor nations as never before.
and galvanised by the sympathy for their case felt by voters in the
West, the developing nations have become assertive. Nations such as
Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Egypt are now recognised as big
The most crucial
battleground will be agriculture with ministers being asked to agree
an outline framework to liberalise trade. Developing nations want tariff-free
access to rich countries' markets and a reduction in their huge farm
subsidies, with little reciprocation.
The EU and the US
agreed joint proposals in August. These measures, which would reduce
farm production and export subsidies in the developed world, have been
rejected by the developing nations as too timid. They are opposed as
too ambitious by Japan, a country so protectionist that it has a rice
tariff of nearly 500 per cent.
A group of 20 poorer
nations has put together its own plan which would see the eventual elimination
of subsidies and opening of rich countries' markets. This, in turn,
has been attacked by the EU. It argues that while Brazil may be a developing
country, it is one of the world's most competitive agricultural exporters.
the EU's agriculture commissioner, warned the developing world that
it should "not reach for the stars in order to get to the moon"
or it might end up with nothing.A similar debate is going on over non-agricultural
products, such as textiles, where poorer nations want tariff-free market
access without reciprocating. Developing nations oppose EU and Japanese
moves to open economies to more foreign investment, and for environmental
provisions which critics call "green protectionism".
Finally the EU is
on the back foot over its attempt to protect "geographical indications"
or products such as champagne produced in specific areas to high standards.
The big picture
will be one of conflict between the rich and poor economies, with the
richer nations on the defensive. Nick Clegg, trade spokesman for the
Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said: "There is a
great gulf between the developing world on the one hand and the EU and
US on the other. The question is whether the latter can give enough
to keep the former on board."