The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Where the holy cow ran amok

Cancun, Sept. 15: Why did the world trade talks fail in Cancun yesterday' Because of Japanese cows!

Cows are not sacrosanct for the Japanese, unlike Swadeshi Jagran Manch activists who have been networking all-week with like-minded global NGOs here.

And yet, Japanese pamper their cows so much that developing countries would not have any more of that kind of nonsense. At least, not with the sanction of the global body in charge of ensuring fair trade.

Ethiopia’s gross national income per capita is $100.

For Bangladesh, it is $360.

But the Japanese subsidy for their cows is to the tune of $2,555 per cow per year. According to World Bank statistics, every Japanese cow gets $7 a day from taxpayers by way of subsidy.

The money is used to give the cows a daily diet of chilled beer and massages. And yes, Japanese cows listen to music every day of their productive lives.

The Group of 22 countries, led by India, China and Brazil, which stood their ground till the very last in Cancun yesterday, defying all predictions, represents 50 per cent of the world’s population.

This 50 per cent is no longer willing to put up with the reality that when half of mankind is subsisting on an average daily income of mere $2, trade rules would be negotiated that would continue to let Japanese cows gets subsidies of $7 a day each.

My neighbours in the hotel here are members of the delegation to WTO from Benin, a cotton-growing country, whose problems have been at the very heart of the Cancun meeting.

A number of West and Central African countries, already very poor, have been devastated by the subsidies that the US gives its cotton growers.

My neighbours told me that their leaders in Benin have to pay the voters to vote for them — through a cumbersome process of retaining the loyalties of regional chiefs, a system that Indians are somewhat familiar with.

Countries like Benin are no longer prepared to tolerate a system in which American lobbyists and special interests — such as cotton farmers in Texas — pay the likes of George W. Bush in election funds so that they can go to WTO and bully countries like Benin into submission on issues like cotton subsidies or genetically modified crops.

Just as the Americans believed that Iraq would be a cakewalk for them, they thought the alliance of developing countries would crack under pressure once the Cancun process got under way.

It did not. Not that bribes were not offered under the table.

The unity of Third World countries which endured until WTO delegations retired to their hotels last night to pack up surprised not only the rich countries, but the poor ones as well.

The failure of Cancun is a momentous development for the world economy at a time when the US has lost three million jobs in three years. But instead of merely exulting in the failure of Cancun, will the Third World find a way out of the rut that failure has created' That is the challenge of tomorrow.

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