10/09/2003

Fair trade tops agenda in Cancun

At the first day of the World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun, staunch economic rivals Europe and America will be aligned against many of the world’s poorer nations.

Delegates from the 146 nations attending the talks at the Mexican resort will be seeking ways to revitalise the global trade body behind a security cordon that is expected to have to hold an estimated 15,000 protestors at bay.

Four years ago in Seattle the talks ended in deadlock and arriving at some sort of a consensus before the end of the talks next year will be problematical. The WTO has consistently failed to meet targets as trade issues have increasingly polarised the nations. Few believe that the talks can be productive.

One of the main areas under dispute will be agriculture. Rich nations want to maintain tariff charges, while poor nations want the removal of subsidies. All in the interests of fair trade and of obtaining a level playing field in an open global market, but ideologically worlds apart.

EU Agriculture Commissioner has already warned developing countries, not to “reach for the stars” as they may come away from these talks with nothing.

Comments that will have done little to dissuade the band of smaller nations which have proposed a plan to abolish farming subsidies and open up the markets.

The EU is also determined to attempt to push through measures aimed at protecting some world famous product names that are derived from geographical locales in Europe.

These protectionist measures are not going to be to the taste to many of the smaller countries throughout the world where similar products are marketed on the strength of the name.

In a tense climate, both within and without the trade summit talks, the Head of the World Trade Organisation Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi has warned that the talks must not fail as the cost to the world economy without trade agreements will be substantial.

Firmly on the back foot, the WTO has recently agreed that “special treatment” will be accorded to some of the least developed countries in ongoing services negotiations due to their special economic situation.

Whether this approach will be extended to the main global trade agreements under consideration is sure to be a key factor on the outcome of the talks.

(SP)

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