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

Update 3: The End of the Cancun Ministerial
Daniella Aburto Valle, G8 Research Group
September 16th, 2003

The G8 nations failed to comply with the commitments they made at Evian in June 2003 at the WTO Cancun Ministerial. The negotiations collapsed before any agreement was reached, and the future looks uncertain for G8 support for multilateral agreements and organizations such as the WTO.
The joint European and American agriculture proposal was rejected by other countries. The revised draft Cancun Ministerial text (JOB(03)/150/Rev.2) issued on September 13 also failed to provide sufficient grounds for negotiations to bring together the polarized positions of the U.S.-E.U., the Group of 21+ [1] and the block of the LDC-ACP-AU (Least Developed Countries–African, Caribbean and Pacific countries–African Union). The LDC-ACP-AU countries considered the proposal “outrageous” because it failed to capture any of their demands. Even the proposal for liberalizing cotton trade, which was supposed to be less contentious and to bring significant benefits to LDCs, did not reach any successful agreement. Thus, there was no progress in reaching the Millennium goals with a suitable agreement on agriculture.

There was no advance in agriculture because a “green room” process involving nine countries meeting on the Singapore issues (trade and investment, trade and competition policy, transparency in government procurement, and trade facilitation) preceded that last stage of negotiations, and this resulted in the breakdown. The EU and the U.S. were fixed on negotiating the Singapore issues, but approximately 80 countries demanded to leave them off the agenda. This was not an easy task for Pierre Pettigrew, Canada’s Minister of International Trade and the facilitator of the Singapore working group, given EU-U.S. persistence and the fact that the Doha declaration had established that these negotiations required an “explicit consensus.”

The WTO claims to be only but a reflection of its members. The U.S., the EU and Canada criticized this round for concentrating more on “pontificating” rather than on doing business. Despite their disappointment, many members strongly manifested their desire for business to be done in a different way, one that would live up to the Doha promise of a liberalization process that promotes development. There is little expectation for U.S. and the EU to reflect on the claim of the others. In the briefings following the closure of the negotiations, U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick expressed dissatisfaction with the negotiations and the WTO, and mentioned that although the U.S. was willing to try the multilateral process, it was also considering bilateral alternatives. His EU counterpart, Pascal Lamy, said that the failure of Cancun was “a severe blow for the WTO” and further reiterated what he had said in Seattle in 1999: “the WTO remains a medieval organization … the decision-making needs to be revamped.” But he also mentioned that, in pursuit of renewal, the EU will continue to work within the WTO. Canada and Japan were less harsh in their critiques of the WTO and this ministerial round, and showed a greater desire to keep working with the institution.


1. The G21 consists of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Venezuela.

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