Liberty Wins One Battle Against International Special Privilege — WTO Talks Collapse
|December 31, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
Liberty Wins One Battle Against International Special Privilege
WTO Talks Collapse in Cancun
The World Trade Organization, which attempts to secure special privileges for powerful international interests, has suffered a defeat. Nations that support freedom of choice have refused to cooperate with the gigantic corporate welfare schemes of the United States and the European Union.
Here are some reactions to the collapse of the recent WTO talks in Cancun. Portions of this article are circulated by InterPress Service and OneWorld.net.
The WTO ministerial conference in the Mexican resort of Cancun came to an abrupt end Sunday without an agreement, leaving a big question mark hanging over the future of the international trade talks.
The negotiations have collapsed, the positions are very distant, and there is no possibility of reaching an accord, at least for now, said delegates of several governments. Some talks will continue at WTO (World Trade Organisation) headquarters in Geneva, they added.
The sensation of failure with which the five-day gathering ended triggered a burst of elation among citizens and the representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who gave shouts of joy and even jumped up and down and danced when they heard the news that no final statement had been agreed.
The trade ministers of the 146 WTO member countries hoped to agree on a final declaration Sunday, or else planned to continue meeting through Monday. But after hours of intense negotiations, the gridlock remained, despite the Mexican government’s efforts to achieve a compromise statement. ”Talks have collapsed and there is no agreement. It’s over. We’ll see each other at the next meeting in two years,” George Odour Ong’wen, a member of the Kenyan delegation, told journalists.
The chairman of the WTO conference, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Derbez, admitted it made no sense to continue the discussions, because the positions were irreconcilable.
This is the second failed WTO conference since the world body was created in 1995. Talks also collapsed at the third ministerial meeting in Seattle, Washington, in 1999, amid massive street protests by the so-called ”anti-globalization” movement.
In the last stretch of the talks, the ministers were working with a draft statement presented by Mexican government officials Saturday, which failed to resolve the question of corporate welfare, and did not set timeframes or deadlines for meeting certain commitments agreed in the Doha Development Agenda, which emerged from the last WTO conference two years ago.
The draft statement, which was drawn up on the basis of the positions expressed in four days of talks, disappointed virtually everyone. The government delegates worked hard Sunday, without success, to achieve a consensus. ”If we reach no agreement here, we may go home with empty hands, a huge debt to developing countries, and doubts regarding the future of the WTO,” a member of the Brazilian delegation commented just before the talks broke down.
After the failure of the talks was announced, the delegates of several G-22 members — among them, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and South Africa — told reporters that the bloc would remain united in future negotiations, wherever they were held. The talks on trade in agriculture will continue, they stressed.
The failed document, which aimed at a compromise, merely stated that the 146 WTO member countries reaffirmed their commitment to moving towards the objective of reducing corporate welfare in industrialized nations, without setting timetables or targets for doing so. It also stated that the eventual phasing out of corporate welfare would only apply to certain products.
At the fourth WTO conference, held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in 2001, member countries agreed to move towards an international trade system that would help pull developing nations out of poverty. The Doha round of trade talks was to have been completed by Jan. 1, 2005, but many observers already doubted that would happen, even before Sunday’s failure in Cancun.
Since the Doha conference, the world’s governments have failed to reach agreement on how and when to phase out corporate welfare handouts to agribusiness corporations, which amount to a combined total of over $1 billion a day in the United States and the EU.
”Frustration” and ”discouragement” were among the words repeated by government delegates when referring to the draft ministerial statement.
Activists said the document ran counter to the interests of the developing world. Greenpeace Mexico spokesman Alejandro Calvillo told IPS that ”it’s a good thing that this ended without an agreement.”
Phil Bloomer, with the British relief group Oxfam, said the WTO talks would never be the same again. Cancun failed due to the emerging power and cohesion of developing countries, he maintained.
Here is how Friends of the Earth regards the situation:
The European Union and the United States drove the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico, into collapse as they refused to give real concesssions to a bloc of developing countries. Agreement could not be reached on proposals from Europe, Japan and others to expand the WTO and bring in new negotiations to “liberalise” (corporatize) investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation (known as the ‘new issues’).
Friends of the Earth said that developing countries’ rejection of the ‘new issues’ demonstrated the resolve of poor nations to stand up to the rich countries and their multinational corporations who were lobbying for special privileges in developing countries’ markets.
No deal is better than a bad deal. Despite intense pressure from the business lobbies and bullying by the European Union and the US, developing countries have stood their ground. This is a great development for people, small businesses and the protection of the environment,” Friends of the Earth International Trade Coordinator Ronnie Hall.
“The WTO is finally seen for what it is: an institution with no legitimacy, working merely to promote corporate interests. Friends of the Earth believes, along with our civil society friends across the world, that now we can start again, looking for ways to develop truly fair and sustainable economies, she added.
What will happen next? Might the WTO start to become more open and democratic, or will it continue to peddle special trade privileges? Tell your views to The Progress Report!