Knight Ridder Newspapers
By Jane Bussey
_ As 146 trade ministers begin five days of global trade talks, the most
modern trade summit ever _ from the ever-present cellphones to the sophisticated
electronic access cards _ is dominated by the age-old issue of agriculture.
Coulibaly represents poor cotton farmers from Mali, who warn their future
is threatened by the flood of cheap cotton into world markets. Similar demands
for urgent action to correct distortions in world trade have quickly become
the make-or-break issue at the world trade summit that opens Wednesday on
the Mexican Yucatan peninsula.
"Cotton is essential to the lives of
people in West Africa," said Coulibaly of the West African Organization of
Agricultural Producers during a news conference Tuesday. "We expect to have
a strict calendar for the end of all subsidies," adding that for trade negotiators
to return from Cancun empty-handed will create political problems at home.
voice was just one of thousands at the fifth ministerial conference of the
World Trade Organization as industry, environmental, labor and citizen groups
jostle for attention from the trade ministers. The ministers meet behind
closed doors during what have become raucous and rancorous events.
There are several proposals on the table but no consensus.
observers are predicting little agreement at the meeting, which includes
a large array of talks including investment agreements and intellectual property
disputes. The talks are supposed to yield a framework for future negotiations,
a timetable and specific deadlines to complete the process by 2005.
There is already talk of a second meeting within six months in Geneva, but no official confirmation.
a signal that the level of crisis is new," said Mark Ritchie, president of
the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, predicting
that the outcome of the talks would be a "polite and shallow declaration."
such a result would not be a sign of failure, Ritchie argued, but a sign
that developing countries are bargaining for real for the first time.
Mexican resort of Cancun has been turned upside down by the tight security:
Every hotel worker has to obtain access cards to go to work in the hotel
zone. Thousands of police and soldiers patrol the island to confine protesters
to downtown Cancun and away from tourists and those attending the meeting.
On Monday, dozens of protesters managed to reach the beach and took off their
clothes in protest. On Tuesday, police and protesters struggled at a police
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, who also has
his eye on November hemispheric trade talks that will be held in Miami, echoed
the emphasis on agriculture.
"Much of the attention here is going
to be on agriculture and I think that is appropriate," Zoellick said in a
news conference. But the trade representative added that for Washington,
the bottom line in the negotiations is market access _ lower import tariffs
and similar easing measures _ for industrial products and services.
countries are demanding that the billion-dollar price supports and export
credits used in Europe, the United States and Japan not be used to dump below-cost
Mexican peasants are protesting the results of the North
American Free Trade Agreement, charging that subsidized American corn is
exported below the cost of production, driving down domestic corn prices
by 70 percent and forcing farmers off their land.
But this is much
more complex than just a rich-poor country divide. Wealthier developing countries
like Brazil want more market access for their products in Europe and the
United States, something that is not an issue for a country like Mali.
Ritchie pointed out that while Mexican farmers focus their ire on the United
States and corn prices, Vietnam is dumping coffee into the world market,
wreaking havoc for coffee producers in Mexico and Central and South America.
(c) 2003, The Miami Herald.
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