The whole discussion at Cancun was centered around two issues, namely Agriculture and Singapore issues. The EU was determined not to shed any further than what they had committed in their Common Agriculture Policy and partially to what they had declared in understanding with US on 13th August 2003. The Cancun Draft released on 24th August was biased in favour of EU and US.
The speeches of Trade Ministers from developing countries were more or less same, giving more emphasis on elimination of trade distorting subsidies of the developed countries. The EU had a greater focus on more market access in the developing countries both for Agricultural goods and for non-agricultural goods and for inclusion of Singapore agenda for negotiation. In other words, there was convergence of G21 on Agriculture and G15 on Singapore issues, both representing the developing countries and EU, US and Japan were on the other side of the table.
The views expressed by the representatives of developing countries through their speeches in the plenary session and through participation in Ministerial Groups for discussions on various issues did not find full resemblance in the Draft Ministerial Text circulated on 13th September and this resulted in frustration and annoyance in their minds. Some questions were being openly raised by the trade ministers challenging the transparency in the working of the WTO especially about who sets the tone for discussion by advance circulation of the Draft Declaration and who does the drafting for the Ministerial Text before the discussions start in the Green Room. G-21 members were utterly puzzled about the way the Ministerial Conference was closed so abruptly by the Chairman, the Foreign Minister of Mexico who was also a party to G21.
The questions were also raised about the interpretations of DOHA Declarations. Before the start of Cancun there were differences on the interpretations of PARA 6 of TRIPS and Public health as compared to Article 31(f) of TRIPS Agreement but ultimately USA agreed on PARA 6 and the issue of granting compulsory license was resolved to some extent. However, soon after the Cancun Ministerial discussions began, the controversies came to fore on interpretation of the term “without prejudging” used in Para 13 of Doha Declaration in the context of commitments of developed countries for phasing out of export subsidies on Agriculture.
US trade representative Robert Zoellick and EU Commissioner Pascal Lamy were on the defensive and Lamy went to the extent saying that he never made such commitment and according to legal advice such declaration does not imply any firm commitments. The ambiguities in interpretations were intentional because they had no desire to compromise on the issue of reduction of subsidies. Similarly on Singapore issue there was clear mention of “EXPLICIT CONSENSUS” but here also there was dispute and the Revised Draft Ministerial Text was clearly in violation of the wishes of the developing countries.
It appeared to me that the discussions were superfluous and the whole exercise was superficial. The developed countries did not want any kind of negotiations and they did not believe in quid pro quo. They believe in a system that helps in granting market for their products, i.e., industrial goods and capital. They will never agree on removing trade distortions, which they are creating by allowing subsidies to the extent of US $1 billion per day. It is to be seen what happens when the deadline for Peace Clause ends on 31st December 2003 on Agriculture because violations of WTO Rules by EU and US may flood Dispute Settlement Body with plethora of complaints by African Cotton Growers and the worldwide sugar growing communities apart from various others.
It is feared that Europe will not abide by its commitments on Agreements on Textiles and Clothing by the end of 2004 and the whole of OECD group may accelerate the process of bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements. WTO was created as a multilateral platform to be used for their exclusive advantage but now as they are finding it difficult to arm twist developing countries during green room discussions, their aspirations remain unfulfilled. Developing countries should make use of this opportunity and make this organization a substitute of South-South Cooperation by ousting all those who are violating the WTO Rules.
Cancun was a failure but the developing countries can look success in the failure because they could remain united and in that sense it was a partial success of G21 over G7.
*The writer attended the Cancun meet as a representative of Swadeshi Jagaran Foundation