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The G8 at the WTO Cancun Ministerial
Sepember 10-14, 2003

Update 2: Commitments to Development
Amber McNair, University of Toronto
September 11th, 2003

At its summit in Evian, France, on June 1–3, 2003, the G8 confirmed its commitment to the multilateral trading system "as embodied in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the current Doha Development Agenda" [1]. Yet the fact that the G8 consists of a group of countries that maintain, in some cases, quite distinct positions on the key issues discussed at Cancun means that this lack of unity must necessarily be reflected within the G8 itself. Two sets of topics are of particular concern in this regard: agriculture and the Singapore issues.

To a large extent, although not entirely, these topics are divisive among members of the G8 but they also seemingly separate G8 members from their stated commitment to the development agenda. Among G8 member countries, agriculture is a key issue, of course. Canada sides with the Cairns Group, favouring a greater degree of liberalization in trade in agriculture while the EU and the U.S. remain at loggerheads on the notion of subsidies. Developing countries would like not only to see key developed countries reduce their agricultural subsidies, which greatly distort trade to the detriment of poorer countries, but also to receive special and differential treatment taking non-trade issues into consideration, such as the right to food. Yet as indicated on September 10 by Franz Fischler, member of the EU responsible for agriculture, this position is regarded as entirely unreasonable. This is a clear indication that movement is not going forward as poorer countries would like. Canada and others are also unwilling to move on issues of special products, simple countervailing measures and, in most cases, safeguard mechanisms.

A personal discussion with Clement Nyaabe, Ghana's WTO representative to the delegation in Geneva, stated that his country's position and that of the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) group of countries is sympathetic to that of the G21 (a group of developing countries that presented a proposal to the WTO); the Singapore issues can not be gone ahead with until agriculture is settled. Europe says that it has made huge concessions by decoupling subsidies from production, which should mean less trade distorting. Nyaabe expects that this is rhetoric to get through the round but will not be implemented in practice — another major obstacle to harmonizing positions needed to move ahead on talks.

Canada and Its G8 Commitment to Development

For its part, Canada has had a significant presence within NGO circles and thus has been active on its G8 commitment to development. Susan Whelan, Minister for International Cooperation, spoke on a panel and took questions from the press and civil society at the commencement of the first Global Fair Trade Fair, organized by the U.S. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and supported in part by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Whalen stated that "Canada supports fair trade for developing countries" and works with organizations in Canada to promote awareness. "CIDA has renewed its focus on agriculture [and] removed most of its quotas and tariffs for least developed countries."

Later on September 10 at a press briefing by the Canadian delegation, minister of international trade Pierre Pettigrew reiterated a positive attitude toward negotiations, stating that the primary goals of the delegation are not backtracking, reforming the global trade agenda, and finding a balanced approach that will benefit all. Yet Lyle Vanclief, Minister of Agriculture, agreed that not backtracking would be considered a positive outcome of negotiations. This would suggest that Canadians and, indeed, other G8 countries are not as positive about potential progress as some of their statements would indicate. One point of clear contention with countries of the South mentioned at the same briefing is that of geographical indicators (GIs). Canada has negotiated GIs on spirits such as Champagne, recognizing the distinct product produced in the region but does not support furthering such negotiations to other products — those of most importance for developing countries such as Basmati Rice.

Those involved in development here at Cancun ask what has happened to the development agenda promised at Doha. That the G8 will succeed in its commitment to the global trading system as embodied in the WTO is very likely. Whether or not it can live up to its statements on building a trading system that is favourable to poor countries is far less obvious. Dr. Rajpati, Chief Negotiator on agriculture for the small island country of Mauritius, expressed this sense of discouragement today: "In my personal opinion, nothing has happened."


1  Co-operative Action on Trade Declaration. Evian, June 2, 2003.

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