Victory in Cancun

In Cancun, like in Seattle, the liberalising machine and the neoliberal ambitions of the US/EU were rejected.  Paul Emile Dupret reports.


The failure of the Cancun Conference is a big victory for the developing countries and for the left in general, because what was rejected is a draft that contains mostly the demands of the US administration and the European Commission to extend liberalisation and the competence of the WTO to new subjects called the Singapore issues (Investment, competition, government procurement, trade facilitation), while giving a second class treatment to subjects that have priority for developing countries (agriculture, implementation, special and differential treatment), with no clear dead-lines, obligations, etc...


The failure of the WTO in Cancun can be attributed firstly to the logic of this organisation: the logic of “giving-giving”, instead of the pursuit of fair trade. The developing countries clearly rejected this logic when rejecting the demand of the United States administration and the EU Commission to link any advance in fair trade in agriculture to the opening of new liberalisations in others areas, especially the Singapore issues.


The failure of the Conference must also be attributed to the agreement between the EU and the US, signed three weeks before Cancun. This agreement between the two biggest blocs, who are the main providers of export subsidies to their agribusiness, polarised the conference. The agreement was presented as a draft for the conference (and that says much about the power of those two blocs inside the WTO) but also provoked a reaction from the developing countries with the creation of a 22-country block (among them India, Brazil, China...), and the consolidation of the African countries. They decided to unite their forces in order to ensure that the few points in favour of developing countries in the Doha agenda are not put to one side.


The failure of Cancun can also be attributed to the fact that the Southern countries have seen that during the year separating Doha and Cancun, nothing was respected in the few obligations in favour of developing countries contained in the Doha declaration. In particular, nothing changed in the lack of implementation of the Marrakesh agreement by developed countries while the developing countries are obliged to implement those agreements by different mechanisms, among them the conditionality of the IMF, WB, IBD, etc.


The rejection of an unacceptable draft is a big victory for the developing countries, for the several groups of countries that intensified contacts among themselves (G-23, African group , G33), and for the social movements that mobilised, and progressive parliamentarians who had a particularly active presence in Cancun during all this week. This active presence is a new development and is attributed to the fact they were able to organise a meeting of the International Parliamentarian Network. This took place at the beginning of the week, with the attendance of more than 150 parliamentarians who work in favour of an alternative to neoliberalism. (see below the declarations of this network, which were transmitted personally to the chairman of the WTO conference, Mr Luis Derbez, who committed himself to transmitting it as a reference document, to all ministerial delegations in Cancun.)


The progressive parliamentarians also acted together to reject a very bad text presented in the official parliamentarian meeting of the WTO organized by the IPU and the European Parliament. This rebellion led to changes in the very neoliberal draft that the chair and Mrs Mann, a Social Democrat MEP, tried to impose as "consensus" - exactly the method used inside the WTO.

Enormous new perspectives are opening up today:  for a reinforcement of an alliance between developing countries, social movements, progressive parliamentarians, in order to counter the commercialisation of everything, and in order to promote fair trade rules.

Paul-Emile Dupret is adviser on trade and development to the GUE-NGL, the left group in the European Parliament. He was a member of the EP delegation to Cancún. Below is the text of the declaration to which he refers.


We, parliamentarians at the

World Parliamentary Forum on the occasion of the World Trade Ministerial Conference in Cancún,

underline once again that the WTO, far from contributing to a decrease in the serious social, economic and environmental imbalances generated by the current international trading system, instead contributes to their increase because of its relentless pursuance of an agenda of privatisation and the diminuation of the role of governments as regulators of the economy.

The Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference opens at a time of crisis in the international systems of dialogue. We have recently seen the failure of the UN which could not prevent the war in Iraq. On the economic front, we participate in the failure symbolised by iron-hand of the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which create inequalities instead of contributing to resolve them. Their policies have different ramifications for each continent. Here, in Latin America, we see that the social movements are strongly opposed to the ALCA because they think that the ALCA has as an aim to reinforce the power of multinationals and to reduce the power of governments and impose on them the necessary rules.

Governments cannot be deaf to these facts, and it is absolutely necessary that they organise truthful discussions on these issues with the sectors concerned. We are against that which continues to impose trade rules on developing countries and on poor sectors in developing countries, which lead to deeper inequalities, dependance, the destruction of culture and the environment.

We hope that the governments represented in Cancun cannot remain indifferent to this clamour which sounds today with a stong volume, at Cancun and in the whole world, in favour of an international trade system based on justice, human dignity and solidarity among peoples, control over food, essentially all the principles ignored by the WTO and those who promote it.

That is why we are launching the strongest appeal to Governments so that they orient the international trade system, and, as a first step, they take on board the 10 demands in the Declaration on the Fith WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun, drafted by the World Parliamentary Forum (in annex), which has been signed by Parliamentarians from many countries and which we have issued today in Cancun.

We ask that they give all importance to that which merits it, to the Dakkha declaration for less-developed countries, to the appeal of more than 60 developing countries which are against the inclusion of new areas for negotiation in the WTO, and the response of 20 countries on the agriculture compromise recently agreed between the US and the EU.

We will look further into our joint actions to build alternatives to neoliberalism, by reinforcing our relationship with the social movements.

To that end, we have already called the meeting of the IV World Parliamentary Forum which will take place in Bombay mid-January and that we will prepare with our parliamentary colleagues in India. We are proposing as an initial agenda the following themes:

control over food, patents ….

Inequalities, the construction of new international solidarity

war, global goverance

We are launching an appeal to Parliamentarians from different continents to organise regional Parliamentary Forums in the different parts of the world.


Annex 1

Declaration on the

Fifth Ministerial Conference of the WTO

in Cancún/México, 10- 14 September 2003

We, members of the International Parliamentary Network (IPN), founded on occasion of the World Parliamentary Forum in Porto Alegre/Brazil, are deeply committed o the idea that another economic and trade paradigm is possible, which benefits the majorties of the populations all over the world.

We believe that the present economic world order, with the Bretton Woods organisations as the leading institutions on economic and financial questions on the one hand, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the other, does not lead to this aim. Since the creation of the WTO, in 1995, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened dramatically. The Doha Development Agenda, agreed upon at the Fourth Ministerial in November 2001 in the capital of Qatar, is not worthy of its title.

In the run up to the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the WTO, which is going to take place in Cancún/México, on September 10-14, 2003, we as parliamentarians, propose the following minimum set of demands to be covered by the conference agenda. We engage ourselves to support these demands in all parliamantarian debates and resolutions before the Ministerial and to lobby for them during the Conference itself.

10 Demands in the run up to Cancún


Ensure Democratic Scrutiny

The WTO process of negotiating, concluding and implementing binding agreements cannot only be an intergovernmental affair. We believe that elected bodies should play their role in the whole process of the negotiating and implementing WTO agreements. Governments' positions on trade issues should be discussed beforehand in parliaments and be co-decided by elected bodies in all WTO member states.


Settle pending issues first and build consensus

The time is not ripe for the negotiation of new WTO treaties on investment, competition, public procurement or customs regulations (the so-called "Singapore Issues" or "New Issues"). It is not acceptable to enlarge the WTO's competences in this way whilst at the same time side-stepping the settlement of issues that promote the aim of sustainable development. A large number of issues pending since the creation of the WTO is still not being sufficiently negotiated, concuded and implemented. The WTO has missed the deadlines on Implementation issues, Special and Differential Treatment, TRIPS and Public Health and Modalities on agriculture, amongst others. The launch of negotiations on the "Singapore Issues" would unduly enlarge the competencies of the WTO and serve the interests of EU and the US corporations, against the interests of the developing world.


Maintain and strengthen core public services

The present negotiations on GATS (General Agrements in Trade of Services) put into danger affordable access to public services. No demands should be imposed on WTO members, particularly developing countries, to privatise their public services, especially water collection, treatment and distribution, energy, education and health. Certain service sectors, such as water and sanitation, have a special status in developing and least developed countries, impacting directly and dramatically on people’s daily lives, and therefore require special treatment.

Access to Medicines must be guaranteed - public health comes first

At the WTO Ministerial in Doha in November 2001 an agreement was found on the issue of access to essential medicines. We call on all WTO members to stick to the Doha commitment concerning the outstanding question of compulsory licences for imports (paragraph 6 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health). In this context we remind them that to impose new constraints as part of the solution to the paragraph 6 problem would violate the spirit of that Declaration and be justifiably seen by developing countries as evidence of bad faith. Each country must have the ability to produce or import generic medicines if needed to protect public health.

No patents on life

Patenting of life-forms must be prohibited in order to preserve biodiversity, food security and indigenous peoples' rights and protect them from corporate grip on genetic resources. At present, patenting is governed by the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Its Article 27.3b however, allows a revision of provisions dealing with patents on life-forms. We support the developing countries in their demand to implement Article 27.3b and particularly the position taken by the Africa group, calling for a clarification that plants, animals and microorganisms should not be patentable; that a "sui generis" system of plant varieties protection can include systems that protect the intellectual rights of indigenous and farming communities; that TRIPs be made to harmonise with the Biodiversity Convention and the FAO Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources.


Protect the independence of Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs)

The WTO is the only international set of rules with sanctioning power. This, however, does not mean that it is superior to any other internationally agreed set of rules. Environmental concerns, for instance, should not be subject to the WTO. The protection of the environment is not a trade distorting measure to be sanctioned by the WTO, but a necessary means to guarantee our common future. Therefore we object to any moves/wording towards WTO-compliance for MEAs, as proposed by US and EU, but rejected by the majority of the participants of the WSSD in Johannesburg.


Uphold perspective on "multifunctionality" in agriculture worldwide

Consumers and producers worldwide are interested in rural development, environmental protection and animal welfare. The right of peoples to nourish themselves as well as food and water security are fundamental for our common future. Trade rules can and should be consistent with these objectives.


Meet the needs of Developing Countries - abolish export subsidies

Subsidies and other export support mechanisms distort the agricultural supply chain. They mainly serve the profit aims of big agroindustrial exporters, putting into danger the survival of small peasants everywhere, in the North as in the South. Only a sustainable practice and fair trade are able to guarantee the existenceof agriculture and food security for the future. We ask for the suppression of agricultural export subsidies of all countries, especially industrialised countries.


Improve workers rights

We call on WTO members to respect the ILO Convention and its core labour standards especially freedom of association for workers. International regulations on labour standards must remain a competence of ILO and cannot be used as a protectionist or trade barriers mechanism. We ask for the WTO to respect ILO decisions and to grant observatory status for ILO in WTO.


Apply precaution and sustainability principles systematically

The one size-fits all approach cannot be applied to unequal partners. Trade is a means, not an end in itself. In order to avoid adverse effects - market access often turns into market displacement - impact studies concerning the sustainability of trade measures in its three aspects (social, environmental and economic) should be carried out, before negotiations start. Each country shall be free to make its own determination of risks to the health and well-being of its citizens and its environment and to take precautionary measures accordingly