The fifth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) opened in Cancun, Mexico on 10 September 2003. The talks collapsed five days later amidst clashes between countries from the developing South and the economic superpowers of the Northern hemisphere.
The main topic on the agenda was trade in agriculture, an issue which is vital to the survival of farmers and indigenous cultures throughout the south. When no agreement was reached on this topic the EU attempted to move on to issues such as expanding access for investors, government procurement and trade facilitation.
G-23 say “no”
The group of countries calling itself the G-23, which includes Brazil, South Africa, India and China, refused to continue discussions unless the US, EU and Japan agreed to cut the heavy subsidies available to their farmers. These subsidies amount to approximately US$3billion a year and are crippling internal agricultural markets in the developing world. The EU and US in return asked that developing countries open their doors to global trade by abolishing import tariffs.
Tearing down the fences
The unity and strength demonstrated by many of the developing countries in defying the US and EU was echoed by protesters outside the convention centre. Saturday 13 September saw a number of different actions take place. Security around the convention centre was extremely tight yet thousands came together and managed to force down the walls and fences surrounding it. The action culminated in a peaceful memorial service for the Korean farmer Lee Kyung Hae who killed himself in protest at the failings of the WTO to defend the livelihood of farmers like himself.
Many rejoiced at the collapse of the WTO meeting. Protesters who managed to stop traffic for three hours outside the centre celebrated their victory, arguing that the institution is fundamentally undemocratic. “We have shown that all their police power and fearmongering cannot keep us out.” The World Bank however, estimated that 140 million people would be lifted out of poverty if an agreement had been reached on agriculture.
Onwards to the FTAA
After the success of nonviolent actions in Cancun, activists and protest groups are busy planning their next battle in the fight against globalisation and corporate take over. As PN went to press ministers for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) were preparing to meet in Miami to further plans to extend the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) to every country in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, except Cuba.
The FTAA will impose the failed NAFTA model of increased privatisation and deregulation on a further 31 countries. Governments will be forced to lower wages, working standards and environmental regulations in order to attract foreign investment whilst rich corporations engage in a “race to the bottom,” seeking the most lax labour laws in order to maximise their profits.
FTAA negotiations have been conducted since 1993 with no citizen input besides a suggestions box. Meanwhile over 500 corporations have access to the FTAA negotiating text. Essentially corporations are writing the rules for the FTAA, something that will profoundly affect us all.