Devinder Sharma beschrijft hoe het in Cancun zover heeft kunnen komen, en beweert dat dat een goede zaak was.

Amidst a lot of drama, the WTO Cancun Ministerial has failed. The underdogs of economic development - the African block - have bailed out the developing world from being economically robbed. And, once again, the countries which have continuously been painted to be in the 'Dark Age' have stood up as a solid block to brighten the future of billions of toiling masses in the majority world.

The walkout by the smaller African countries, led by Kenya, and followed by some Caribbean nations on the contentious Singapore issues - the four new issues of investment, competition policy, government procurement and facilitation - which the United States, European Union and Japan were pushing in aggressively, has actually failed the Cancun Ministerial. The Singapore issues were aimed at simplifying cross-border traffic and increase competition and market access for multinationals. The walkout by the Africans, the second time in the history of the WTO, clearly demonstrates that there is more to the WTO than merely playing to media gallery.

First in Seattle in 1999 and then in Cancun 2003, the Africans and the Caribbean have emerged as the real heroes. The failure of the WTO Ministerial at Seattle and now at Cancun is the direct outcome of the African's frustration and their willingness to stand to the mightiest. Kenya deserves the salute - jo jita wohi sikandar. And so do thousands of farmers, activists, and protestors who continued to raise their voice ten kilometres away from the official venue of the Ministerial talks. The supreme sacrifice by the 56-year-old Korean farmer, Lee Kyung-hae, will remain embedded in the history of the multilateral trade regime as a tragic symbol of the destructive fallout of the so-called free trade process.

The G-23 (as the coalition of India, Brazil and China along with 20 other countries is called) in contrast, only roared. Like the street dogs that chase any speeding car, they continued to bark and then sit back demurely. India's commerce minister, Arun Jaitley, who used the unique opportunity to pose himself as the champion of the farmers cause, too had given in the final stages. Neither did India, nor the other two giants - China and Brazil - staged a walk out in protest. The draft circulated a day before had only called for an end to export subsidies on farm products of special interest to developing countries, but was far short of the elimination of all subsidies as demanded by the G-23 group of developing nations.

Notwithstanding their tough postures outside and before the final moments, the failure of the G-23 to stand up and be counted had in reality led towards a compromise formula linking the phase out of agricultural export subsidies with the unbundling of the Singapore issues, meaning getting started on at least two of these if not all the four sectors. Except for expressing displeasure, which means nothing in the trade talks, the G-23 finally had wagged the tail.
India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, besides the EU and some
developed countries, were locked in intense green room
discussions in the final stages to reach a compromise.

What happened at Cancun is reminiscent of the absence of 'killer instinct' that continues to plague the Indian society. Whether it is athletics, hockey or cricket, many a times India has done remarkably well in the international tournaments till it reaches the semi-finals and the finals. How many times can one remember the times when the nation sat glued to the television, literally on tenterhooks, watching the nail-biting finish, only to see the Indian team buckling under pressure. In politics, and more so in trade diplomacy, India continues to give a repeat performance. At 2001 Doha Ministerial too, the then Commerce Minister Murlisaran Maran, fought alone against the inequalities being perpetuated by the global trade regime. A phone call from the Prime Minister at the nail-biting stage, and he had to give in to the manipulative designs of the rich and developed countries.

Once again, India faltered at its moment of crowning glory. Let us be very clear, Cancun Ministerial failed because of investment issues and not agriculture. The G-23 did not stage a walkout in anger against the glaring inequalities present in the final ministerial draft. If it were not for the African countries, Arun Jaitely would have returned home empty handed. His mandate, ostensibly with an eye on the ensuing elections, was to cater to the votes of the domestic electorate. In that sense, he did remarkably well. But if one were to see the approach of the BJP-led Coalition, it had all these years worked just on an opposite format to what it tried to project at Cancun.

This does not however undermine the effort of the G-23 and the G-16 (on special and differential treatment) countries to speak out. There is no denying that the G-23 countries did manage to create a world opinion against agriculture subsidies that the rich countries - forming the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - bestow on its miniscule population of farmers. In fact, these subsidies - totalling US $ 311 billion - are actually benefiting food and agricultural companies in the name of farmers. These subsidies depress global farm prices and enable the developed countries to dump cheaper foodgrains in the developing countries, thereby crippling the livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers in the developing world.

What is also significant is that the debate Cancun Ministerial generated, for the first time acknowledged that all subsidies were detrimental and trade distorting. Earlier, economists, policy makers, and many western NGOs (in association with their developing country partners) and the ministers had all along found fault with the export subsidies but defended the domestic support and the green box subsidies. It also exposed the protection that the WTO provided to the rich country agriculture by way of special safeguards, higher tariffs and other non-tariff measures. At the same time, it puts to shame the relentless campaign by some organisations and individuals, including a section of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which was for paving the path for an unhindered entry of multinationals with all the state protection for them.

* Devinder Sharma chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for
Biotechnology & Food Security.

(Dit artikel was oorspronkelijk op GlobalInfo gepubliceerd door Devinder Sharma.)