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MEXICAN JOE

One manís failure is another manís success. The collapse of the negotiations at the ministerial level meeting of the World Trade Organization in Cancun in Mexico is matched by the growth in unity among the developing countries. Apart from the innovative kinds of protests witnessed in Cancun, the two most striking features of the meeting were the unity just mentioned and the growing differences in attitudes and vocabularies between the rich and the poor countries. Only the dyed in the wool optimist will have faith in the promise that talks will resume again in Geneva, the headquarters of the WTO, in a few monthsí time. Too many thorny issues emerged this time ó agricultural subsidies and the four issues raised in the ministerial meet at Singapore. Following the logic of the free market, if agricultural subsidies are stopped, the European Union will face a political upheaval since the EU farmers have been pampered through subsidies and they also wield enormous political clout and influence. The developing countries have argued that Europe and the United States of America should set the stage by keeping their promise on agricultural subsidies and thus open up imports before new issues are raised for discussion in Geneva. There was no agreement on this score and thus the cookie crumbled.

Much of the protest that always surrounds WTO deliberations is based on bizarre conspiracy theories on the part of the West, especially the US. Such theories gained greater ground by the circulation, at the eleventh hour, of the final draft declaration. The draft was ominously tilted towards the interests of the EU and the US. The collapse of the WTO talks has an important domino effect on multilateralism and the fairness of the WTO as an arbitrating and a facilitating organization. India was a reluctant starter in the negotiations from the beginning. The reluctance grows from domestic political compulsions. On the eve of assembly elections in four crucial states and with general elections looming next year, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are understandably not too keen to explain too many things to the electorate and to their supporters. India has rather sought the salve of unity and derived satisfaction from the fact that the concerns of the developing countries were in the eye of the storm in Cancun.

The jubilation of the usual suspects at the collapse of the talks in Cancun has little or no basis. The WTO provides a forum where the developing countries can show their solidarity by acting together. The disintegration of the WTO will remove such an opportunity and restore, through the revival of bilateralism, the dominance of the developed world with even greater force than today. Opposing the WTO because of anger against the US and the EU will be to throw away the proverbial baby with the bath water. The WTO is also a window to opportunities. To ignore this would be myopic. A war of manoeuvre should not be seen as a war of attrition.

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