Civil society hails Cancun failure, some ask Lamy to resign

Geneva, 15 Sep (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - The collapse and failure of the WTO ministerial meeting at Cancun, has been hailed and viewed by civil society groups and activists, as not only a failure of the WTO process and leadership, but of the EC Commissioner, Mr. Pascal Lamy and his trade agendas and strategies.

Some of the reports by the NGOs at Cancun to their constituents said that the cavalier way the African cotton issue was dealt with, and the incorporation by the Mexican chairman, in his revised draft text issued on Saturday, of the US views and proposals on cotton, infuriated all the African representatives.

Some trade diplomats said that the last-minute offer from Lamy, to take the other Singapore issues (except for trade facilitation) off the agenda, did not fly in the African grouping. For one thing, there was nothing in writing to look at, the other demandeurs could have insisted on keeping them on the Doha agenda, and Lamy had also made it conditional on all his other proposals (including agriculture) being agreed to - a ‘no brainer’ deal.

There was some confusion as to what exactly was the offer from Lamy on the Singapore issues - whether he offered to take some off the agend at Cancun, or completely off the WTO Doha agenda, or something else.

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Netherlands-based European NGO, has called for Lamy’s resignation, blaming him for “aggressively confronting” the developing countries in the WTO talks, in stark contrast to the EU Commission’s self-proclaimed “development agenda.”

“The collapse of the Cancun ministerial, has opened a perfect opportunity for the EU to move away from its current corporate-centred trade policies”, said Erik Wesselius, researcher at the CEO.

The summit failed when developing country governments refused to accept a draft declaration heavily biassed to the EU and US agenda, including green light for continued agriculture export subsidies and the launch of WTO negotiations on controversial new issues such as investment and government procurement. The Cancun Ministerial will stand out as a historic moment, when developing countries organised effectively and didn’t give in to “the bribery and arm-twisting” by which the EU and the US attempted to force them into accepting a negotiating agenda that would run counter to developing country interests.

CEO, which has been campaigning against Lamy and the EC trade agendas and policies promoting the TNCs of EU and the US, said that Lamy is politically responsible for the EU’s “deeply flawed negotiating strategy,” which left developing countries with no choice but to walk out. “The EU’s aggressive and self-serving negotiating strategy in Cancun angered developing countries, even more so because of the excessive doses of ‘pro-development’ spin which Lamy uses at every occasion”, says Erik Wesselius.

[Lamy, a French Socialist, in promoting his agendas adopts a language of telling developing countries, particularly the Africans and the ACP countries, that he knows best what is in their interest, and has a style of functioning that is not conducive to win friends.

[Here is a sample from Lamy’s news letter from Cancun, of his views about developing country groups: “I see my diary is peppered with ‘G’-meetings - and there’s a new kid on the block, the G-21, or is it G-22? Hard to tell. What I can see, though, is that they don’t like the G-25 (that’s us) plan on agriculture. The NGOs, who are active on all issues, seem to have developed a special liking for the G-21 and are busy trying to swell their ranks. Strange bedfellows, if you ask me, but it all makes life interesting. And later today, a new G-X has emerged, bringing together the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the least developed countries as well as the African Union. I leave you to figure out to just how many that adds up.... I’m a party animal, and my favourite group round here is the G-148 (WTO membership presumably).

[However, when he loses his job, whether now after Cancun failure or at the end of his term in 2004, he may emerge as a very distinguished travelogue writer.  But perhaps he did not read a US book, Dale Carnegie’s, titled ‘How to win Friends......’]

The CEO charged that though “a coalition of over 70 developing country governments expressed their clear rejection of negotiations on investment liberalisation and other new issues, the EU continued to push for such talks to be included in the summit declaration. The EU’s made a 11th hour offer (on Sunday) to postpone the launch of two of these new issues (other reports from the Green Room said that in response to the Mexican chair, who asked him to take two items of the agenda - ‘no talks, no study, no negotiations’, Lamy offered to take off investment and competition policy, and even give up transparency in government procurement). But it was too little, too late..”

The EU needs a fundamental overhaul of its trade policy, and “instead of serving the expansion of corporate interests, the EU’s international trade and investment policies must serve the world’s poorest and the global environment,” the CEO researcher said.

According to a report from a representative of SEATINI (at Cancun), the African Union and parliamentarians from the East African Legislative Assembly have called on the WTO to implement principles of fair trade that will benefit the people of Africa. The Parliamentarians warned that the manner in which the process of negotiations was being managed would have the effect of “de-legitimising” decisions of the WTO.

For the African Union, Mr. Jaya Krishna Cuttaree, the chairperson of the Ministers of Trade of the African Union, called for transparency in negotiations. “It is our view that the conduct of these negotiations should be open and transparent and the final outcome should be pegged on the need to meet the Doha mandate which placed the needs of the developing countries at the heart of the WTO work programme.”

Greenpeace (some of whose disruptive demonstrations at press conferences, according to some NGO briefing notes, merely helped organisers to force NGOs out of such meetings) said that the Cancun failure was the “expected” end of a trade system ruled by the WTO with a single-minded objective of trade liberalisation.  Greenpeace urges governments to rapidly convene an international conference with the mandate to provide the basis for the creation of a alternative trade system.

A report from African NGOs at Cancun, said that the Green Room consultations on Singapore Issues started midnight of Saturday, after the release of the chairmans revised Draft Cancun Ministerial Text After that the ACP/AU/LDC group of countries met and denounced the text on Singapore issues, saying there was no explicit consensus to start negotiations on the issues. This message was repeated in several consultative meetings held today despite the pressure being put by developed countries to launch negotiations on the issues.

A note from the Green Room consultations was passed on to the chair of the meeting saying three issues were being dropped; Transparency in Government Procurement, Competition Policy and Investments leaving Trade Facilitation for negotiations. But the group (infuriated by the way the ‘cotton issue’ had been treated, and perhaps even did not understand the Lamy offer), immediately dismissed this tactic saying the unbundling of the Singapore issues would not make any difference to them. What they want is to stick to the Doha Declaration, which said that negotiations on these issues would only begin when there is explicit consensus.

Zimbabwe, which had previously complained of the non-transparent nature of the negotiations, said that they were blackmaiiled, and the issues will still be referred to Geneva for further negotiations.

“We are being blackmailed. We are being told that if we don’t agree on Singapore Issues, then Cancun will collapse. This is not true; we will take the issues back to Geneva. We cannot agree on issues that we are not educated about. We need further education on what these issues will do to our economies,” said Dr.  Samuel Mumbengegwi, the Zimbabwe Minister for Industry and International Trade and Head of the delegation to the Cancun Ministerial Conference. He said the so-called Green Rooms were not green at all. “They are Hot Rooms that cannot produce anything green.”

The chairman of the meeting concluded by saying the position of the group was not changing and that this was not his position but the position of the meeting.  The representatives went back into the Green Room with this message.

In a report to some Indian NGOs, Mr. Ashok Rao reported from Cancun that after the collapse, the ICFTU, Global Unions, NGOs including the multinational NGOs like OXFAM and Action Aid have put out statements welcoming the collapse. This reflected that the poor and disadvantaged have managed to exploit the chink in the armour of the arrogant US and EU.

Between the end of the green room process, and the meeting of the final plenary, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Ecuador and Egypt held a press conference on behalf of the G 21.

Brazil said that Cancun showed that “we have established unity amongst us on agriculture.” The Brazilian envoy said, “We concentrated on human issues and large parts of human population.... We did make very constructive amendments to move the process forward. We were very business like. Negotiations is a process and we are stronger today”.

Argentina’s ambassador said, “we have proved that we are not a rhetoric group but a broad based political coalition.” South Africa’s Minister said, “we worked very hard so WTO can move forward. We have to work for the ordinary people everywhere.” Ecuador said that the offers of the G 21 were fair and to promote free trade. We have to work for a peaceful world for free people.” Egypt repeated that the G 21 had made concrete proposals in its talks with EU and US.

Pascal Lamy said that we came very positively. “What was on the table was a fair deal and more than what was possible a few months ago. We European were ready to reduce our agricultural subsidies. On services we were ready to open movement of professional persons. On Singapore issues which are a key we moved at Doha, after Doha and Cancun. In order to force consensus we even agreed to drop two issues and retain only transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. The WTO remains a mediaeval organisation. I strongly believe that the decision-making needs to be revamped seriously.... All of us could have gained, but we have all lost.”

The USTR Amb, Robert Zoellick, at his press conference was arrogant, and said:

“if countries want to behave like in the UN and only make demands instead of negotiations making inflamatory rhetoric then trade negotiations are not possible.” He virtually cursed the G 21, and said “I tried to talk to the head of delegations; and China was ready to move and this was followed by Uruguay and Panama....”

“We have free trade agreement with 6 countries and we are negotaiting with another 14. We will use multiple strategies and multiple tracks to move on,” the USTR said.

The official WTO Ministeral statement, with six paragraphs, had one operative sentence: “We therefore instruct officials to continue working on outsatnding issues with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose and taking fully into account all the views we have expressed in this Conference”.

The Indian NGO also reported stoically on some doings at Cancun:

“Greenpeace went into a press conference of the USTR and threw some maze in the air so; and all with NGO badge were out of the press conference - only press badges were allowed. Then some NGOs went and changed the homepage of the computers in the press area, from WTO to OXFAM. So NGO badge was debarred from the Press Area. So that is that.” - SUNS 5419

[c] 2003, SUNS - All rights reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service without specific permission from SUNS. This limitation includes incorporation into a database, distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media or broadcast. For information about reproduction or multi-user subscriptions please contact: