Africa: After Cancun, 09/17/03

AFRICA ACTION Africa Policy E-Journal September 17, 2003 (030927)

Africa: After Cancun (Reposted from sources cited below)

There has been extensive news coverage of the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun last weekend. This posting provides several documents summarizing the outcome and the background, particularly emphasizing the new strength showed by developing and African nations in insisting that their priority issues not be ignored. Note that one of the documents included from the Africa Trade Network was written just before the final collapse of the talks. For more background and links see the two previous e-journal postings dated September 12, available in the e-journal archive at

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Cancun - Destined for Failure

September 16, 2003

By Charles Cobb Jr. Washington, DC

[reposted with permission from]

When Kenyan and Ugandan delegations walked out of the World Trade Organisation's meeting on Sunday afternoon and Kenya's delegate George Odour Ong'wen declared to reporters that "the talks have collapsed and there is no agreement," United States Deputy Trade Representative Josette Shiner was startled; she shouldn't have been.

The signs were there well before the meeting began. Prior to the five-day session, South African president Thabo Mbeki had suggested that perhaps developing nations' delegations should join anti-globalization protestors on the sidewalks outside the negotiations, and European Union (EU) Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, had accused poor nations of being on a "space odyssey" and advised them to "come back to mother earth."

It was downhill from there. Africans in particular have long chafed at the power of the U.S., EU, Japan and Canada within the WTO.

On the issue of immediate concern to African delegations - eliminating trade-distorting EU and U.S. agricultural subsides - those two wealthy blocs put it on the back-burner and pressed for acceptance of so-called "Singapore issues" - new rules that would govern investment, competition, trade facilitation and government procurement that many poor nations believe would amount to surrender of their domestic authority and would further tilt the economic playing field in favor of powerful multi-national corporations.

In a Saturday night "green room" meeting, as the secretive ad hoc sessions that are held on the side of regular sessions are known, the issue was debated under the heading of "new issues" into the early morning hours of Sunday. This meeting only included The U.S., EU nations, and a number of other nations including Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Kenya now generally known as the "Group of 20 (developing countries)." It got nowhere. G-20 nations like India and Malaysia were adamant in rejecting the G-8 attempt to force through the trade-off.

In the plenary session later Sunday the deep division could not be bridged. "The general feeling is that we're being taken for a ride (by the G-8)" , said one African observer for an international agency who asked not to be named. This participant, like many delegates from African nations noted that the WTO's draft text on global trade offered nothing concrete on agricultural subsidies and nothing much on market access.

The EU refused to set a date for phasing out export subsidies and demanded that in exchange for some concessions on tariffs that block the export of their finished products to rich nations, poor countries would have to agree to cut their own protective trade barriers. The net result, says the G-20, would be a flood of cheap food imports that would further undermine their agriculture.

Four West African nations - Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Benin - asked Washington to slash the US$4bn spent annually on cotton subsidies (more than the combined value of their cotton production). The U.S. response was to argue that only a comprehensive initiative that expanded the world market from fiber to garment could improve the economic prospects for African farmers. "Create a bigger demand for t-shirts," sneered one participant.

During the Sunday session the EU continued to insist that it wanted talks to press ahead on new rules governing the four Singapore issues. African nations, in particular, felt their concerns were being dismissed. I thought, "Why are we here?" one participant told allAfrica.

Developing nations representatives went back to their members who insisted they wanted the four Singapore issues dropped from the draft declaration. South Korea and Japan said they could not support it unless all four were retained for discussion, at which point the chairman, Luis Derbez, Mexico's Foreign Affairs Secretary, said the talks had effectively ended. It made no sense to continue, he said, because the positions were irreconcilable.

What amounted to a mutiny on Sunday, may mark a new determination by developing countries strongly to assert their interests in an arena in which they are usually manipulated or bullied by the rich powers. "For the first time in the WTO, the developing world, united not on ideological grounds but on key and well articulated interests, acted in concert to advance its developmental agenda," says South Africa's minister for trade and industry, Alec Erwin.

The Group of 20, now being called the group of "20 plus" began as the group of 16. "It is a new coalition of developing countries that can negotiate on their own," explained one official. "They will be listened to if they make noise." [E-journal note: in a press conference following Cancun, it was announced that Nigeria and Indonesia had also joined the group.]


Statement on the collapse of the 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO

Africa Trade Network (ATN)|9/15/2003

The 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO has collapsed. African and other developing countries refused to bow to combined pressure and manipulation of the quadrilateral countries led by the EU'US to give in to the issues promoted by the developed countries at the expense of the interests of the African countries.

The Africa Trade Network salutes this victory of the united strength of the weak against the blatant bullying and disregard by the strong and powerful countries in the WTO. The collapse of this ministerial, following from that of Seattle for similar reasons, should serve notice to the rich and powerful countries in the international trading system that the time is running out for their imposition of their narrow interests on the rest of the world. It should signal the beginning of a new way of interaction in international affairs based on a relationship of genuine and mutual respect.

The Africa Trade Network salutes ministers of Africa and ministers of their allies in the Africa, Pacific and Caribbean group of countries, as well as in the Least Developed Countries, for holding firm, and standing up to the untold arrogance, manipulation and pressure exerted by the developed countries. We also salute all other developing coiuntries.

We salute all civil society organisations in Africa, the South and the North for their valiant efforts and contributions to help the weak turn the tide against the bullies.

We call upon the governments of the powerful to learn the lessons of this collapse and turn to ways of interaction more appropriate to genuine international cooperation in future trade negotiations.


Contrasts and Counter-Positions in Cancun Dot Keet, African Peoples Caucus in Cancun

September 14, 2003

Report from Dot Keet on behalf of the African Peoples Caucus in Cancun

Over the past few eventful days, dozens of activists from South Africa have been on the streets of Cancun, Mexico, immersed amongst thousands of small farmers and fisher people from all over the world, indigenas from Chiapas and workers from Mexico and neighbouring Latin American countries, and hundreds of trade unionists, development and environmental NGOs and other civil society organisations from Africa and the Caribbean, Asia and Europe, and even the United States, Canada and Japan.

What is amazing and inspiring is that the many colourful banners and placards, flags and chants, songs and drumming, each with their distinctive cultural characteristics, all carry similar messages against the World Trade Organisation, against the unjust and destructive economic system it is being used for, against the damages to the world environment, to peoples livelihoods and to their very lives - as expressed so dramatically in the symbolic suicide of the Korean farmer, Lee Kyung Hae.

With their own unique style of political expression, singing and toyi-toying South African activists were drawn to the forefront of the farmers march. There they witnessed up close the ultimate act of protest by the Korean farmer. That night we sent our solidarity message to the Korean brothers and sisters and joined in the vigils at the fountain where most demonstrations converge. And, far away, even within the very WTO conference centre itself, 'accredited' NGOs protested with the same message that 'The WTO Kills!'

The following day, when the African Peoples Caucus held their own demonstration expressing their opposition to the theft by the World Theft Organisation of Africa's development resources, rights and prospects, we received enthusiastic support from other activists, from Korea to Canada, from Mexico to the Middle-East, and from everyone who witnessed our toy-toying, singing, chanting procession and colourful placards.

With our distinctive black and green T-Shirts and banner proclaiming that 'Africa is Not for Sale, Africa no esta a la venta', the African peoples organisations present in Cancun are sending a clear message to the WTO and to all African governments that we are here to demand that the needs and rights of our people are not sold off by our governments.

We are deeply suspicious that in the exclusive Convention Centre from which we are barred by twelve foot steel and concrete barriers ten kilometers away - symbolic of the vast gulf in understanding and experience between officials on 'the inside' and the people on 'the outside' - the insider wheeling-and-dealing between governments might produce yet another sell-out of their countries and their peoples.

And we have reason to be suspicious. While we are demanding that there be 'No New Issues' to expand the powers of the WTO; while we are determined to 'Stop the GATS-Attack' on our public services; while we are warning our governments not to accept further Industrial Tariff Liberalisations that will destroy more jobs at home; we are told in a meeting here with South African Deputy Minister of Trade, Lindiwe Hendrikse, that the SA negotiators are preparing to make 'trade-offs', although she 'cannot as yet tell what these will be'.

In contrast, African activists are urging all African governments to stand firm on their own agreed positions, and on the issues that African peoples organisations prioritise. Some African governments, led by Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbwabwe, are playing a leading role in developing country alliances against the power of 'the majors', drawing developing countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and many others around them.

But activists from South Africa and the rest of the continent are concerned about the role of South Africa within Africa and more generally. From afar it appears that South Africa has at last taken a stand after a recent phase of inaction reflecting their loss of their own chosen strategic direction. The intransigence of the majors in Geneva over the pat two years has blown apart the compromise so-called 'development agenda' that South Africa had helped to broker in Doha.

But out of the initiatives of the heavy-weight developing countries, Brazil, India and China a new centre of gravity has emerged for developing countries in the WTO. This is the Group of 21, which has drawn in a range of other Latin American and Asian countries, and South Africa has decided to 'find shelter' amongst these.

The G-21 position is a direct challenge to the deal between the US and the EU in defense of their respective policies supporting their agricultural producers and exporters. As an unprecedented counter-weight to the majors within the WTO this grouping is receiving the solidarity of African countries.

But no African countries [apart from South Africa and Egypt] have joined this group because it essentially reflects the interests of big agricultural exporters and does not support the needs of small producers. There is not even a mention of the Special and Differential Terms (SDTs) that are key to the defense of the policy flexibilities of smaller and weaker countries in the WTO, and that should be at the centre of the Cancun agenda, as promised in the Doha declaration..

Most problematically, the G-21 has adopted the overall position that, if there is 'movement' (a rather ill-defined notion) on agriculture by the majors, they will then consider negotiating their other demands. This flies in the face of the position of the African and other developing countries in Asia and Latin America (numbering more than 70 in total) that the controversial new issues must not be linked to any possible agriculture 'concessions'. In fact, these new issues, above all towards the global liberalisation of international investment and capital flows, must NOT become negotiating subjects in the WTO.

African non-governmental organisations met with South African and Senegalese Ministers, on 12th September, to convey their views and present some probing questions to them. Unfortunately, the meeting was turned into a formalistic 'briefing' by the Ministers rather than the reverse that was expected. But there was at least a sense that the Minister from Senegal was listening to the views expressed and took clear positions in defense of the 34 Least Developed Countries in Africa, for whom she is the official spokesperson in the WTO.

There was a very different message from the South African delegation, with their reference to the compromises they are already preparing to make. And as the final disturbing touch, the African NGOs - who are highly knowledgeable on the details of each and every issue in each and every 'text' being negotiated - were informed by the SA Minister for Arts and Culture, who is a member of the South African 'negotiating team' in Cancun, that he 'does not know anything about trade'.

These are some of contrasts and contradictions in Cancun


Bridges Daily Update

September 15, 2003


[brief excerpts only. The full text of the Bridges Daily Update is available on the ICTSD website at]

The Cancun Ministerial Conference ended abruptly and early on Sunday without consensus on any of the items on its agenda and amidst bitter divisions over the launch of negotiations on the Singapore issues and over agriculture. ...


G-22: Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Ecuador and Egypt, speaking for the G-22, said that although the failure to reach agreement at Cancun was a setback, the group had solidified and shown that it was a serious and professional party in the agriculture talks, concentrating on issues of interest to a large part of the population of developing countries. ......

ACP/LDC/AU: This alliance of poorest countries regretted that the final negotiations started off by addressing "an issue on which [its members] had a very, very strong" position. All three of the alliance's constituent blocs had affirmed their opposition to launching negotiations on any of the Singapore issues in recent ministerial declarations, and thus felt they had no option but to reject the EC's offer to drop just two of them. The alliance was also disappointed that in the end negotiations never got to deal with its priority issues, i.e. agriculture, non-agricultural market access, special and differential treatment, and - of course - cotton. Speaking strictly in his permanent capacity, the LDC Group's spokesperson Bangladeshi Trade Minister Amir Chowdhury said that he thought the alliance could have had more flexibility on the Singapore issues if more had been offered for cotton. The paragraph on cotton in the second draft Ministerial Declaration was seen as a slap in the face by many African and other poor cotton-producing countries, whose hopes had been raised by the general sympathy with which the initiative had been received just a couple of days earlier at the Ministerial plenary. ...

EC: Visibly trying to contain his disappointment and frustration, European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy made no qualms about his view that "Cancun has failed". While it was not dead, the Doha Round was definitely "in intensive care", he added. ...

US: The US reacted to the failure of talks with thinly veiled frustration. US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick complained that the US had come to Cancun ready to negotiate on a wide range of issues including agriculture, only to have its ambitions thwarted by developing countries who seemed more interested in "tactical rhetoric" than concrete progress. Zoellick condemned certain developing countries for inflexibility during negotiations, noting that "frustration is not a policy." ...

Japan: Japan sought to deflect blame for the deadlock on the Singapore issues, insisting that it had displayed the flexibility necessary to move discussions forward. It did not, however, retreat from its insistence on negotiations for the Singapore issues, claiming that issues "are about making rules, and we all need rules." On the similarly contentious issue of agriculture, Japan maintained that it would continue conferring with the G-10 to block tariff rate quota expansion and tariff capping, noting that it could not and would not agree to these proposals.

CARICOM: Billie Milla, coordinator of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), contradicted assessments by some of the major players that progress had been made in agriculture, arguing instead that very little movement had been achieved, which would not have made a difference to the CARICOM. She stressed that all were going home empty-handed and that no-one had gained anything. ,,,

Civil society reactions: In their immediate reactions, ActionAid, Oxfam and Greenpeace accused the EC and US of sinking the talks. The International Gender And Trade Network and the Africa Trade Network celebrated the collapse of talks as representing "a major political shift in the power dynamics of the WTO with developing countries successfully resisting power in the face of extreme pressure and bullying." WWF said that the failure represented a chance for sustainability, and that governments should now focus on slimming the WTO agenda and dealing with sustainable development issues in forums outside the WTO. The European business group UNICE and the European Services Forum on the other hand expressed disappointment at the missed opportunity at Cancun.

The Way Forward

At this stage it is not entirely clear on what basis talks will continue in Geneva, particularly as there was no failure management plan in place for the Conference. ...


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 14:21:13 -0500 Subject: Africa: After Cancun