Cancun, Mexico - WTO negotiations collapsed here yesterday amid deep
divisions between the United States, European Union and Japan on one
side and the Group of 23 (G-23), led by Brazil, South Africa, India and
China, on the other. The two sides, already at odds on agricultural
issues, deadlocked over proposals for WTO rules on investment,
competition, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement.
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G-23: Strength in Unity
The split between developed nations and many countries in the global
South is not new. It was one of the factors that led to the failure in
the Seattle round of talks four years ago. However, a potent new force
challenging the US and European Union has emerged inside the WTO. The
G-23 represents 85% of the world's farmers and more than half the global
"This is the first time we have experienced a situation where, by
combining our technical expertise, we can sit as equals at the table,"
Alec Erwin, South Africa's trade minister told the (UK) Guardian. "This
is a change in the quality of negotiations between developing and
Meanwhile US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick blamed the G-23
for the breakdown.
"Whether developed or developing, there were 'can do' and 'can't do'
countries here," Zoellick told reporters. "The rhetoric of the 'won't
do' over whelmed the concerted efforts of the 'can do.' 'Won't do' led
to the impasse," he added in an in an analogy almost as convoluted as
Abbot and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine.
Corporate lobbyists and also had a significant presence here in
Cancun, and according to observers, they played a major role in forming and
reinforcing the bargaining positions of the US and the European Union.
Pascal Kerneis, Managing Director of the European Services Forum, which
represents all European service industries such as tourism, water and
energy was unsympathetic to the G-23 demands.
"This is world trade, this is globalization. This is the game of the
rules," Kerneis told CorpWatch. "Either you close your market, you
protect your market, you have your own consumers, and you're happy with
that, or you want to play with the others."
Members of the US trade delegation have been predicting the G-23's
demise throughout the week, noting that they are united by what they
oppose, not the trade alternatives they support. Not surprisingly, G-23
members tend to see the conflict differently. They hope that the collapse
of the talks will put them in a stronger position when they resume at
the WTO headquarters in Geneva in the indefinite future.
Protestors, Civil Society Groups Claim Victory
Meanwhile, security at the Cancun Convention Center where
negotiators met was extremely tight throughout the week. The direct route to
Cancun's hotel zone from the city center was closed since Tuesday, forcing
workers as well as some press and delegates to take a 25-mile detour.
Despite the heavy police and military presence, over 100 activists were
able to reach the convention center on Friday, and blocked traffic for
over an hour. Others hung large anti-WTO banners from a nearby
construction crane and a pedestrian bridge.
Many of the activists and their allies in non-governmental groups
see the collapse of the Cancun round as a victory.
"The most favorable outcome for the developing world is a derailed
ministerial, in which there are no new initiatives at liberalization
that are agreed upon  including agriculture and subsidies," explained
Walden Bello, director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South.
"No agreement is better than a bad agreement," he added.
Increasingly frustrated at the WTO negotiating table, many here
expect Washington will change its focus to bilateral or regional trade
talks, such as the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. A summit on
the FTAA is set for Miami in November. Yet as the 5th WTO ministerial
meeting ends in collapse, there is a tangible sense here that the
newfound strength of a large bloc of Southern nations has shifted the balance
of power between rich and poor countries, at least for now.
Listen to the audio version of this story on Free Speech Radio News
Dan Jaffee is a correspondent for Free Speech Radio News