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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Viewpoint: Cancun's boost to the poor

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Anti-globalisation protestors celebrate after WTO talks collapse
Can the unity among poor countries in Mexico be sustained?

If I were a rich world farmer, I think I'd have a slight chill creeping up my spine today.

The collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun may look like disaster for all. Eventually though, out of the ashes may come a new, abrasive self-confidence from the poor.

For a prosperous farmer, that will not be good news.

The developing countries are farming communities, or they are nothing.

They have lived for centuries by the rhythm of the seasons, at the mercy of the vagaries of climate and pestilence. They learned to cope, or at least to survive even when millions of individuals perished.


Now they face a new level of threat, and it has several layers. If they want a better life, they have to join the modern world, they are told, and that means the trading system.


But that slaps tariffs on the goods they want to export, and helps the farmers of Europe and North America to kill their markets by dumping artificially cheap northern produce on them.

They have concluded that, with the present rules, they cannot win and many of their farmers will be forced off the land and into urban penury.

When several northern campaigners for trade justice suggested failure at Cancun might actually help the poor, spokesmen for the developed world were indignant.

Now the talks have collapsed, and everyone has lost something.

The north has made no advance on the topics where it hoped for progress, like the so-called "new issues". The south is stuck with the same old skewed trade rules that it so detests.

New force

What is new is the emergence of the developing nation grouping, the G21 bloc.

The European Union and the United States both seemed baffled by it, asking what common cause could bind its disparate members together.

Fair trade, equal treatment to all nations has to be the base of globalisation
Samuel Davila, Mexico

That was the wrong question. They did group together, and they toughed it out to face down what they regarded as the north's unacceptable demands.

Critics - and friends - would say the G21 was very late in appearing on the scene.

The poor world has been disunited for too long, and has often had to accept much or even most of the blame for its failure to secure a better deal.

That changed in Cancun. The question now is whether the unity the poor managed to sustain in Mexico will endure into the future.

There will be temptations to bicker, there will be inducements from the north to sidle off and acquiesce in more compromise.

But if the G21 does manage to keep going, the future for farmers in the north could before long be very different.

The BBC's David Loyn reports from Cancun
"In the chaos, poorer countries said there was just not enough on the table for their farmers"


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