WTO meeting in Cancun collapses - a victory for South
The failure of the World Trade Organization Ministerial in Cancun has been
widely reported. We offer here a perspective you may not find in the U. S.
press: a view from the South.
Solidarity Network reports on the collapse of the meeting "amid
North-South divide." Then a second report (below) focuses on impact of
protests and marches by "thousands of campesinos, unionists, students,
anarchists and NGOs."
WTO MEETING COLLAPSES AMID NORTH-SOUTH
The World Trade Organization Ministerial in Cancun
collapsed on Sunday amid irreconcilable disagreements between Northern
nations, led by the United States, and southern countries, led by China,
India and Brazil. Negotiations, extending into the wee hours of the morning
on Sunday, were unable to bridge fundamental differences.
"The Bush Administration acted like total thugs to the
other WTO member countries," according to Lori Wallach of Citizens Trade
Campaign. "The U.S. hurled threats and name calling to try to pressure
countries, but I think it backfired. ... The Kenyan Ambassador representing
the African bloc walked out, then he was followed by the Jamaican ambassador
for the Caribbean bloc. As soon as the Kenyan got down the escalator we
could see on his face that it was OVER and he started telling what happened
to those near him and then Ambassador Bernal from Jamaica confirmed what had
happened. There must have been 150 civil society folks in here and in short
order the Venezuelan, Nigerian, Kenyan, Brazilian, and other governments'
negotiators who had stuck out the bullying came down and it was a blur of
hugs, crying, hoots, etc."
On Saturday Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez,
who chaired the meetings, offered a draft declaration that was swiftly
rejected by other Southern countries. The proposal "has arbitrarily
disregarded views and concerns expressed by us," said Indian Commerce
Minister Arun Jaitley. "The document is very far from addressing the points
we wanted," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.
In the final analysis, there were almost no areas of
agreement between Northern and Southern countries. Southern nations objected
to massive agricultural subsidies by the US and EU that result in dumping of
basic grains at prices below the cost of production, threatening the
existence of millions of small Southern producers. Cotton was of particular
concern to some smaller African and Asian countries that depend on cotton
exports for a significant share of the GDP.
The US, EU and Japan tried to introduce the four so-called
"Singapore issues" for negotiation, but over 90 members of the WTO objected.
The "Singapore issues" would expand market access for multinational
corporations, regulate competition, open government contracts to
multinational bidders and affect cross-border transportation.
After the collapse, EU negotiators complained about WTO
rules that prioritize consensus decision-making. EU Trade Commissioner
Pascal Lamy declared, "Despite the commitment of many able people, the WTO
remains a medieval organization. I said this in Seattle, got a lot of flak
and I have to repeat it here. The procedures and rules of this organization
have not supported the weight of the task. There is no way to structure and
steer discussions amongst 148 members in a manner conducive to consensus.
The decision-making needs to be revamped." Apparently Lamy prefers decisions
made by powerful countries behind closed doors.
US trade representative Robert Zoellick dismissed the
concerns of Southern nations in condescending terms: "... useful consensus
among 148 countries requires a serious disposition to focus on the work at
hand and not rhetoric .. [I]f the WTO and its principal members continue
with rhetoric instead of negotiation, the results will not be positive."
The WTO collapse and an increasingly assertive Southern
block of "developing" nations represent additional elements in the political
crisis brewing in Washington. Mired in guerilla wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and questioned on growing budget deficits and cuts in social
programs at home, the Bush administration finds in a crisis of legitimacy
that helped embolden Southern nations to stand firm. It may be that the
failed WTO negotiations will be seen as a turning point, with Southern
countries rejecting the neoliberal model and Washington's unilateral
WTO PROTESTS SEND
Thousands of campesinos, unionists, students, anarchists
and NGOs dominated much of Cancun this week with protest marches and
workshops outlining alternatives to the WTO's neoliberal agenda. The largest
protests, each about 10,000-strong, occurred on Wednesday and Saturday, with
a Korean delegation numbering around 100 taking the lead both days. On
Wednesday, Lee Kyung Hae, president of the Korean Federation of Advanced
Farmers, committed ritual suicide during a demonstration at the metal fence
that separated demonstrators from the hotel district where the WTO
ministerial was held. Lee was a committed activist who saw the neoliberal
policies promoted by the WTO as the death of campesinos. According to the
Korean delegation, Lee's action was not planned, but was not unexpected, as
he had tried to commit suicide twice before at international gatherings
protesting the neoliberal model. Shortly after Lee's death, thousands of
demonstrators destroyed a large section of the fence and battled with
heavily protected police who threw nearly as many stones as the protestors.
Lee's death forced Korean negotiators to leave the WTO ministerial.
The Korean delegation and a large group of women took
charge of Saturday's demonstration, dismantling a triple-layer ten-foot-high
steel fence, then leading a ceremony commemorating Lee's sacrifice. The
ceremony ended with hundreds of demonstrators presenting white carnations to
police. By that time it was becoming increasingly clear that the WTO would
end in failure. The demonstration sent a powerful message that civil society
is capable of destroying barriers, but also of disciplined action.
Many smaller creative demonstrations also had an impact.
On Monday nude demonstrators spelled out NO WTO on a ritzy beach near the
convention center where WTO negotiators gathered. Later in the week small
groups of protestors blocked traffic in the hotel zone near the convention
center for several hours at a time. On Saturday NGOs dumped a bag of
genetically modified corn at the feet of US officials during a press
conference, leading the WTO to ban NGOs from the press center. Puppets,
banners and marching bands completed a week of creative mobilizations.
The Mexican government reportedly spent US$20 million on
the failed meetings, plus an additional US$5 million on security.