Organic Consumers Association

Report from Cancun--We Are Winning

September 15, 2003

Report from Cancun

We Are Winning


By the time news that negotiations inside the WTO had imploded in the face of an open and unified insurrection by delegates of the global south, the party was in full swing. Members of the resistance -Peasants from South Africa, Thailand, Central America and Korea with a large crowd of global justice activists still high from the success of the previous day's 'grande manifestation', danced around the fountain. At kilometer zero, the spot where Lee Kyung Have fell by his own hand just a few days earlier, ecstatic celebration mixed with memorial, an American hippie drummer joined the Korean percussionists. Mexican campesinos sported Korean headbands and a handsome schoolteacher from Seoul stood slightly apart from the joyous crowd in dark sunglasses and an embroidered ladies indigenous blouse.

With tears in his eyes, the president of Via Campesino recounted the words of Lee's daughter when he presented her with a bouquet earlier in the day. "My father is not dead," she said. "He lives in the heart of farmers all over the world". As people gathered around the memorial that had grown up at the junction, Cancunensas brought their children forward to light candles at the memorial, passing vehicles honked their horns in support, and in some of the weeks most surreal images truckloads of Policia Federal gave the thumbs up as local cops tied white flags to the antennas of their cars.

The previous day, thousands of resisters descended on the newly fortified security barrier near kilometer zero. Like the initial structure, this fortification was pulverized by the collective action of the demonstration. A couple of hundred women first massed along the fence and set about it with heavy bolt cutters. Mountains of wire were cut free and discarded by supporters as the women went into the 10 foot deep no mans land, thousands of riot police pressing at the other side. Bolts and chains which locked the wall together disappeared in a Fordist destruction line, the chains worn around the necks of the African women as trophies... The notorious black block... displayed a sophisticated and mature reading of the situation. They worked closely with the women at the front in securing the barricade from the nutcases and provocateurs ensuring the success of the day.

Next up, the Koreans. They had spent the morning weaving rope into long plaits. These were brought forward and attached to the top of the barricade. The throng lined up, took the three lines in hand and began to pull in time with the Korean chants of a work gang. During an incredible three hours the barricade was destroyed and removed from the road by the steady collective action of the crowd. It took several turns and minor adjustments to tear the wall asunder. At one point, when it was about to tear into two parts for the first time, several journalists and photographers were gathered inside the collapsing structure. Warnings to vacate were given and the work teams paused, breaking the tempo of the operation. Nevertheless, as the steel caved towards the crowd 2 photographers went arse over tit inside as it rolled. Fortunately the work gangs were attentive enough that the signal went quickly along the line and these people were saved from grave injury.

The atmosphere was otherworldly as the mammoth structure began to buckle and sway, the realization began pass through those assembled that this thing was really coming down. The crowd was silent as the drummers accompanied the heaves of those on the ropes and the barricade disintegrated. It was quickly moved from the road onto the median where youths mounted it for a better view of the front line, now a small open space between the riot cops, a throng of cameras, the Koreans and the women of the movement of the global south.

In an unorthodox but tactically genius move, the crowd, flying high on this tremendous group achievement, which was ready to storm, to riot, to do almost anything- instead sat down. There was a ceremony and moment of silence for comrade Lee and then the electrifying news that not only had a group of Korean companeros made it into the convention center, but the group of 21 developing nations had signed a document refusing the proposals of the U.S.A and E.U. We are winning.

For days militants had infiltrated the "zona hoteleria" and caused mayhem, blocking traffic, confronting delegates and being chased around by a bewildered army of private security, conscripts and military policemen. In one of the weeks more comical actions, a `reclaim the beach' party was reported on breathlessly by network correspondents as a demonstration. Video footage showed bathers bobbing, and waving while fifty odd security guards stood sweating on the sand scratching their heads. Due obviously to orders not to sully the image of the WTO with arrests or blood these spontaneous demos would routinely end in a negotiated deal whereby the police would provide air conditioned coaches back to kilometer zero and parties at the Korean encampment. This is the real Cancun.

On Sunday night at the fiesta around the memorial to Lee the mood was triumphant. People from around the world celebrated the death of the WTO and the life of Kyung Hae Lee. His death had crystallized something very important. As one Campesino woman put it, he has given us a great gift; he has reminded us that the policies of the WTO are a matter of life and death. _____________________________________________________________________
Cancun Failure

By Devinder Sharma*

Amidst a lot of drama, the WTO Cancun Ministerial has failed. The underdogs of economic development - the African block - have bailed out the developing world from being economically robbed. And once again the countries, which have continuously been painted to be in the 'Dark Age' have stood up as a solid block to brighten the future of billions of toiling masses in the majority world.

The walkout by the smaller African countries, led by Kenya, and followed by some Caribbean nations on the contentious Singapore issues - the four new issues of investment, competition policy, government procurement and facilitation - which the United States, European Union and Japan were pushing in aggressively, has actually failed the Cancun Ministerial. The Singapore issues were aimed at simplifying cross-border traffic and increase competition and market access for multinationals. The walkout by the Africans, the second time in the history of the WTO, clearly demonstrates that there is more to the WTO than merely playing to media gallery.

First in Seattle in 1999 and then in Cancun 2003, the Africans and the Caribbean have emerged as the real heroes. The failure of the WTO Ministerial at Seattle and now at Cancun is the direct outcome of the African's frustration and their willingness to stand to the mightiest. Kenya deserves the salute - jo jita wohi sikandar. And so do thousands of farmers, activists, and protestors who continued to raise their voice ten kilometres away from the official venue of the Ministerial talks. The supreme sacrifice by the 56-year-old Korean farmer, Kyung-hae Lee, will remain embedded in the history of the multilateral trade regime as a tragic symbol of the destructive fallout of the so called free trade process.

The G-23 (as the coalition of India, Brazil and China along with 20 other countries is called) in contrast, only roared. India's commerce minister, Arun Jaitley, who used the unique opportunity to pose himself as the champion of the farmers cause, too had given in the final stages. Neither did India, nor the other two giants - China and Brazil - staged a walk out in protest. The draft circulated a day before had only called for an end to export subsidies on farm products of special interest to developing countries, but was far short of the elimination of all subsidies as demanded by the G-23 group of developing nations.

Notwithstanding their tough postures outside and before the final moments, the failure of the G-23 to stand up and be counted had in reality led towards a compromise formula linking the phase out of agricultural export subsidies with the unbundling of the Singapore issues, meaning getting started on at least two of these if not all the four sectors. Except for expressing displeasure, which means nothing in the trade talks, the G-23 finally had wagged the tail. India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, besides the EU and some developed countries, were locked in intense green room discussions in the final stages to reach a compromise.

What happened at Cancun is reminiscent of the absence of 'killer instinct' that continues to plague the Indian society. Whether it is athletics, hockey or cricket, many a times India has done remarkably well in the international tournaments till it reaches the semi-finals and the finals. How many times can one remember the times when the nation sat glued to the television, literally on tenterhooks, watching the nail-biting finish, only to see the Indian team buckling under pressure. In politics, and more so in trade diplomacy, India continues to give a repeat performance. At 2001 Doha Ministerial too, the then Commerce Minister Murlisaran Maran, fought alone against the inequalities being perpetuated by the global trade regime. A phone call from the Prime Minister at the nail-biting stage, and he had to give in to the manipulative designs of the rich and developed countries.

Once again, India faltered at its moment of crowning glory. Let us be very clear, Cancun Ministerial failed because of investment issues and not agriculture. The G-23 did not stage a walkout in anger against the glaring inequalities present in the final ministerial draft. If it were not for the African countries, Arun Jaitely would have returned home empty handed. His mandate, ostensibly with an eye on the ensuing elections, was to cater to the votes of the domestic electorate. In that sense, he did remarkably well. But if one were to see the approach of the BJP-led Coalition, it had all these years worked just on an opposite format to what it tried to project at Cancun.

This does not however undermine the effort of the G-23 and the G-16 (on special and differential treatment) countries to speak out. There is no denying that the G-23 countries did manage to create a world opinion against agriculture subsidies that the rich countries - forming the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - bestow on its miniscule population of farmers. In fact, these subsidies - totalling US $ 311 billion - are actually benefiting food and agricultural companies in the name of farmers. These subsidies depress global farm prices and enable the developed countries to dump cheaper foodgrains in the developing countries, thereby crippling the livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers in the developing world.

What is also significant is that the debate Cancun Ministerial generated, for the first time acknowledged that all subsidies were detrimental and trade distorting. Earlier, economists, policy makers, and many western NGOs (in association with their developing country partners) and the ministers had all along found fault with the export subsidies but defended the domestic support and the green box subsidies. It also exposed the protection that the WTO provided to the rich country agriculture by way of special safeguards, higher tariffs and other non-tariff measures. At the same time, it puts to shame the relentless campaign by some organisations and individuals, including a section of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which was for paving the path for an unhindered entry of multinationals with all the state protection for them.

*Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food trade policy analyst.

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