We Won in Cancun!!!Time to Work for Bigger Victories
The Fifth Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico closed without unity on a Ministerial Declaration. The collapse of the talks is victory for the national interest. As the Stop the New Round! Coalition (SNR!) emphasized during the launch of the SNR! Caravan and SNR! Cancun Monitor on 9 September, it is in the best interest of the Philippines that the framework in the Cancun draft ministerial declaration is not passed. The draft declaration called for further tariff cuts in agriculture, further tariff cuts and the binding of all non-agriculture products, a quick deadline for the conclusion of negotiations in services, and the possible commencement of negotiations on new issues. The government’s implementation of its trade policy has devastated agriculture and industry, and government has yet to make a full accounting of these effects. The tariff review is far from being completed, and further commitments will prejudice the outcome of such review. Also, binding agreements on these issues will restrict the already limited national policy space of developing countries and constrain their development options.
Negotiations turn for the worst
In the course of the negotiations, the developed countries worked to even worsen for developing countries the already bad draft ministerial declaration. The reworked draft ministerial declaration released on 13 September sidelined the positions of developing countries.
In agriculture, the text did not call for serious reforms in domestic support and export subsidies, even as developing countries are told to decrease their tariffs drastically. The so-called Green Box which allows unlimited subsidies and has been used by developed countries as a mechanism for dumping was not addressed definitely. There was only limited concession given to the strategic products and safeguard mechanism being pushed by developing countries. In non-agriculture market access, no substantial changes have been made to relax the tariff reduction commitments, even as it maintains only a weak reference to non-tariff barriers that have been used by developed countries as a mechanism for their own protection.
But what took the cake was the draft’s insistence on the start of negotiations on at least two new issues – government procurement and trade facilitation, and the imposition of a deadline on which to reach agreement on the modalities for negotiations on investment and competition policy. In the course of the negotiation there was clearly no consensus on this, with 16 countries leading developing countries opposed to the launch of negotiations on these issues. on 12 September, as many as 90 countries expressed a common position that there should be no negotiations on the Singapore issues.
A breather, finally
The negotiations on the new issues proved to be a crucial dividing line. Into the final hours of the Conference, countries were still trying to break deadlock in a so-called green room of 33 countries that included the Philippines. No consensus was reached. Luis Ernesto Derbez, Mexico’s foreign minister and host to the Fifth Ministerial officially closed the talks with a declaration that there was no basis for any agreement on new issues.
Critical to the outcome was the refusal of a grouping of developing countries on agriculture as well as on new issues to break ranks towards the end of the meeting. In the past, similar coalitions broke down under the weight of pressure from developed countries on developing country capitals. Unable to contain his dissatisfaction, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick quipped that many countries were "pontificating and not negotiating".
The road back home
The road to Cancun has been difficult for the SNR! Coalition. It took a long time before we were able to compel Secretary Mar Roxas, the country’s trade negotiator, to take a position on specific issues on the table. While the positions taken by government were far from the detailed positions that we wanted, we emphasized that we will hold the negotiators accountable for whatever they committed to us, including its position to oppose the launch of negotiations on the new issues. The SNR! flexed its political muscle by holding a two-day broad, multi-sectoral mobilization last 12-13 September.
The road back home will be even more challenging. The government must be able to translate its new rhetoric on trade policy into concrete policies at home. The sectors will sustain its campaign for policy change in agriculture, fisheries, industry and services.
But for this brief moment, we pause to claim the people’s victory in Cancun.
For more details please contact:Joseph PuruggananSNR Secretariat