Message Of The Cancun Meet: United We Stand

Updated: Sep 22 2003, 05:30am hrs
Whatever may be the causes of the collapse of the Cancun ministerial meeting of the WTObe it the Singapore issues or farm subsidies or the forthcoming US presidential election or a combination of the threeit has given a signal to the developing world that their goals can be achieved only if they remain united.

The group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries deserves more credit in remaining united in their cause than the group of developing countries including India, Brazil and South Africa, commonly called G-21 plus. According to reports G-21+ was in a more conciliatory mood in the green room discussions on the last day of the conference and had agreed to the EUs suggestion for taking up only one of the Singapore issues namely trade facilitation and some cuts in domestic and export subsidies. The ACP group was, however, not agreeable to any of the four Singapore issues to be taken up for discussions and further not getting any assurance from US for a cut on cotton subsidies, they staged an enbloc walkout. Earlier when two Singapore issues, namely investment and competition policy were dropped from discussions, Japan and South Korea had walked out. Indian agriculture minister, Rajnath Singh is one of those who believes that US deliberately derailed the Cancun negotiations as it did not wanted to commit itself to any concessions ahead of the forthcoming presidential election in that country.

The collapse of the Cancun meet means maintaining status quo. Global trade will go on as usual. It is not a demise of WTO. But due to the collapse of the Cancun meet the developed countries now stand to lose on one count - the Peace Clause which till date is protecting them from any dispute is slated to lapse by end of 2003. With the expiry of the Peace Clause, countervailing duties can be imposed on those agro products supported by subsidies in developed countries are causing injury to the producers in the importing country. Any extension of the Peace Clause will require consensus, giving developing countries important leverage in negotiations.

The developed countries are aware of the consequences of the expiry of the Peace Clause. It is for this reason an official level meeting of WTO member countries is slated to be convened in Geneva by mid-December. The next WTO ministerial meeting cannot be convened before January 2005 as per rules. Probably this sixth WTO ministerial meet in 2005 will be in Hong Kong ! The developed countries cannot wait till then.

This is the reason for an official level meeting of WTO member countries in mid-December, this year. The developing countries again need to show their unity if they want to gain out of negotiations.

The G-21 plus need to carry the ACP countries along with them. Not only there is a need for cooperation in WTO negotiations, but also there is a need to encourage more South-South trade. This can be done through free or preferential trade arrangements. But FTAs and PTAs should not cause injury to the interests of either parties. If rigidity in stance of developing and least developed countries on genuine issues cause derailment in WTO talks, it matters little. Trade can go on as usual even under the present dispensation and trade can be boosted through FTAs or PTAs. What the developing countries genuinely want is a level playing field vis-a-vis the developed countries and free and fair trade.

This is a great opportunity for the Third World countries to come together in one platform after the non-aligned movement (NAM) which is now practically defunct.

Singapore issues need to rejected as it infringes upon the sovereign rights of countries to chart their development programmes. The African countries are against the Singapore issues as they have experienced what the multinational like Nestle, Philip Morris, Neumann, Volcafe in command over the processing and marketing chain have done to the coffee growers. Similarly raw cotton is being marketed at cheap rates in Africa as US has depressed global prices through heavy subsidies and these cheap African cotton are being processed by multinationals in developed countries. Some least developed countries which do not have an integrated textile base may suffer due to phase out of bilateral quotas under MFA by 2004. Their interests need to be protected. There is also a need to gain the support of the net food importing developing countries (NFIDC). NFIDC should get IMF support as per the WTO panel report.