Cancun 13 September 2003

Less than 30 hours are left for the official closing of Cancun Ministerial and so far the Ministers have virtually made no headway. All five facilitators after conducting open-ended meetings with member countries have submitted their draft texts to the Mexican foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, chairman of the Conference. Now it is the turn of the chairman to act on these texts and come out with an updated draft ministerial text. The “real negotiations” will start thereafter.

The major problem confronted by the facilitators and the chairman is that the majority of the members are still holding on to their long held Geneva position. George Yeo, Singapore’s trade minister and the facilitator on agriculture, has pleaded with major agricultural producers to put aside domestic politics for the sake of developing countries. He urged rich nations to end export subsidies on agriculture and be more generous to poor countries.

However and as expected, Lamy seemed quite tough on agriculture. In a briefing on 12th afternoon he commented on the G-21 proposal by saying: “My experience is that alliances, to be politically effective, have to have a solid ideology on which they base their proposals.” He expressed his disapproval in particular with India and Brazil being a part of the same alliance. India and Brazil are in totally different worlds. This is not to say, he clearly stated, that alliances such as these cannot operate efficiently or that they are not useful. However, agriculture has its specificities and India and Brazil have very conflicting interests. US trade representative Robert Zoellick, according to another news report, is known to have asked the G-21 members “if they were ready to offer any concessions in exchange for a cut in domestic support and export subsidies on farm produce”.

On Singapore issues, Canadian trade minister Pierre Pettigrew (facilitator on these issues) had a series of meetings with other ministers. A substantial number of delegates believed that there was no ‘explicit consensus’ among members on these issues, hence it was not possible to launch negotiations at this Ministerial. One participant in the Working Group described the state of issues as ‘Geneva by the sea’.

However, Pascal Lamy is clear on EU’s position. In a briefing with NGOs, when intervened by a NGO representative on which issue he would select, other than investment, if there were place to begin negotiations on only two of the Singapore issues. To this he responded: “We don’t have to choose. My mandate is to keep them bundled. No unbundling.”

On investment, an NGO representative asked the reasons why he thought that investors’ responsibility should not be a part of a potential multilateral agreement on investment. He responded by saying that investors’ responsibility was meant to be dealt in other fora such as the OECD, referring to the existing OECD’s Code of Conduct. Bringing it under the WTO framework would thus not be advisable. Lamy admitted that some developing countries have problems with the Singapore issues. But “others don’t. Some have more problems than the others. Some others are in favour of some of the issues and against the others.” What he did not appreciate was the attitude “I don’t want this if you want it” that some developing countries have the tendency to adopt. “I have my answers,” he said, to the issues of policy scope, technical assistance etc which are often cited as the ‘negatives’ of the Singapore issues.