Security may have been the only thing working properly last week when the 146 nations of the World Trade Organization came together in Cancun, Mexico. Farm trade was at the heart of the meetings aimed at liberalizing global trade. And though protesters were kept miles away from the negotiations, there remained a sense of tribulation inside the conference venue. With developing nations banding together to flex some muscle, the five-day conference ended in collapse.
Though protestors were held at bay there was a battle of a different type raging inside the hotel. A coalition of 22 developing nations, including Brazil, India and China, formed to combat the inequities between developed and developing nations. The group, now called the G-22, vowed to no longer be bullied by more affluent nations.
Part of this round's negotiations was an attempt to level the agricultural playing field. The final draft of the treaty included a cut in subsidies by the United States and the European Union in exchange for developing nations dropping their tariffs. The "G-22" took issue with subsidies staying in place. For their part, European Union negotiators were quick to clarify that this was a reduction in subsidies not the elimination of them.
The strain between citizens of G-22 nations and the United States was present even during informational meetings. Tensions were evident in this exchange between a representative of a Brazilian farmer organization and U.S. Representative Republican Robert Goodlatte of Virginia.
Ricardo Serreira, Federation of Agriculture and Livestock, Minas Gerais State: "You are competitors in services and you have to start to be used, that Brazil is competitive in agriculture, probably more than the U.S. and you have to get used to that."
Representative Robert Goodlatte, (R)Virginia: "Used to what? We import $470 billion more than we export from our country. We are very used to recognizing the competitiveness of other countries in other areas. What we say about agriculture is it has got to be fair trade as well as free trade."
Ricardo Serreira, Federation of Agriculture and Livestock, Minas Gerais State: "We agree with that completely."
Representative Robert Goodlatte, (R) Virginia: "Then stick with us and don't go form a group with countries like India and China who don't agree with that."
Once it was clear the negotiations were at an impasse the meeting was closed. Representatives of several nations felt no deal is better than a bad deal.
Robert Zoellick, the United States Trade Representative laid the blame of the impasse on meetings filled with too much "pontificating" and not enough "negotiating."
Robert Zoellick, United States Trade Representative: "Whether developed or developing, there were "can-do" countries here and there were "won't-do." The harsh rhetoric of the "won't-do" overwhelmed the concerted efforts of the "can-do."
There is no optimism among members that an agreement will be reached by the self-imposed deadline of January 2005. The next WTO conference is tentatively slated for Hong Kong in August of 2004.