Cancun – let the games begin!

In Doha, you were either with the free-traders or 'terrorists'. The equation had shifted by the time the World Trade Organisation (WTO) got to Cancun. The developing world upped the ante at the "fifth ministerial" of the WTO at Cancun, Mexico. The meeting was declared a failure. It was the occasion when developing countries finally said 'no' to a top-down mode of negotiation and agreement with respect to reforms in agriculture, trade, market access, improvement for non-agricultural items, and the launch of negotiations on competition, investment and so on. The unity in the negotiating positions of the developing countries, forged strictly on economic lines, was a surprise to many on both sides of the north-south divide. For these three-fourths of the WTO membership, entertaining the 'hope' of benefits purportedly accruing at some stage of their economic growth from decisions arrived at in multilateral fora, was not particularly 'rational' when contrasted with the perennially  suffering domestic constituency back in their countries.

From day one of the Cancun meeting, the WTO member nations disagreed on practically all items on the agenda. The European Union (EU), the main demandeur for the inclusion of these issues, was more interested in bundling the issues of competition policy, investment, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement (collectively known as the 'Singapore issues') without actually wanting to give up its 'mothering' of the agricultural lobby back home. Despite the EU and Japan trying their best to start negotiations on these issues, the G-21 (group of developing countries led by India, Brazil, China and South Africa) made it clear that they were not ready to start negotiations on any of the new issues unless there was tangible progress in the areas of agriculture, implementation issues and review of provisions for Special and Differential (S&D) treatments for developing countries (Pakistan joined the G-21 at a later stage in the conference).

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Himal Southasian