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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
'Plans afoot' for Cancun follow-up
Mexican soldiers build a fence around the conference facilities for the WTO meeting
Mexico is trying to make sure protesters stay out
Fears are growing that the upcoming world trade meeting in Cancun, Mexico, will fail to make progress.

According to newspapers and experts, the World Trade Organisation is already planning a follow-up ministerial meeting to make up ground if, as expected trade ministers fail to agree this week.

Cancun has been billed as the make-or-break session for the current round of trade talks, so booking a follow-up meeting is seen in some quarters as being an upfront admission of failure.

Deadlines on all kinds of vital issues from agricultural tariffs to help with the cost of urgently needed drugs for developing countries have been repeatedly missed.

A drug deal has actually been agreed at last, but not without a great deal of rancour and accusations from non-governmental groups that it is a figleaf imposed through arm-twisting.

Key issues at the trade talks

And the rhetoric is heating up too, with European Union farm commissioner Franz Fischler accusing his southern counterparts of "wanting the moon" and resorting to "cheap propaganda" rather than taking a practical approach.

Round and round

Developing countries may have one or two victories this time around, ovservers believe, since the deadlock could force several "new issues" advocated by the European Union off the agenda.

Among the casualties may well be rules on investment and competition, which the developing world says should not be tackled till it gets the progress promised in the last ministerial at Doha, Qatar in 2001.

That meeting promised a "development agenda", and the likes of Brazil, China and India say that the new issues have little or nothing to do with that.

A farm deal is on the table, but has been vociferously criticised by most developing countries for not doing nearly enough to make the European Union, Japan and the US open their markets to their poorer rivals.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters are converging on Cancun in the hope of making their voices heard - some wanting reform, others calling for the WTO's outright abolition.

Some development agencies are keen to play down this side of the protests, since they warn that without the WTO trade will depend on bilateral deals, in which richer countries are more likely to get their way.

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