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CANCÚN, Mexico: The disappointing ministerial conference that concluded
here on Sunday will have many ramifications, but sadly the most significant
of them will be its impact on poor countries.
Two years ago, in the Qatari capital, trade ministers agreed to begin global
trade negotiations driven by what is known as the Doha Development Agenda,
which put the question of development at its core. It is widely acknowledged
today that trade is a vitally important element in any program for
development, as it can deliver benefits to developing countries worth many
times more than all the development aid they receive.
Opening markets for trade in manufactured products, services and agriculture
can provide the key for global economic growth and development.
Unquestionably, we will need a balanced outcome to this round of
negotiations. At the same time it is essential that the negotiations deliver
more to developing countries than they have received from trade rounds in
Already we have recorded some benefits for these countries. In the last
several months, we have achieved significant progress both in Geneva and
here in Cancún. We reached a historic agreement last month on access to
essential medicines for the poorest countries and we have agreed on 28 proposals that would extend special and differential treatment to developing
An initiative to phase out cotton subsidies was advanced and indeed widely
supported at the ministerial conference in Cancún. For the first time, the
poorest countries in the world actively took part in the negotiations and
succeeded in placing their interests on the trade agenda. The proposal for
improving the situation of cotton farmers in West Africa did not go as far
as governments in that region wanted, but the fact remains that this issue
was on the agenda, and once something is on the agenda it can be improved
The same goes for the progress that was made here on agriculture. Many
developing countries thought the work done here had moved the negotiations
in a very positive direction. Not as far as they wanted perhaps, but in a
system when all decisions are taken by consensus members must be realistic
about the political concerns of their trading partners.
Now, because ministers could not agree in Cancún on the future agenda, the
future of many of these issues is uncertain. For this reason, and others,
the outcome of this ministerial conference is a great disappointment.
Ministers could not agree on whether to launch negotiations on the so-called
“Singapore” issues of trade and investment, trade and competition,
transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. The level of
political sensitivity varies widely on these issues, but members could not
agree on any of them.
In the end the ministers could not summon the necessary flexibility and
political will to bridge the gaps that separated them. Sadly, those that
will suffer the most for their inability to compromise are the poorest
countries among us. A more open and equitable trading system would provide
them with an important tool in alleviating poverty and raising their levels
of economic development.
If we are to preserve what we have already achieved, build on these
achievements and resuscitate these negotiations, ministers will have to
intensify their efforts at finding solutions to the problems they could not
overcome in Cancún.
We may have to learn the Cancún lesson that when participants take too long
to unveil their true positions, compromise becomes even more difficult to
achieve. We may also need to work closely with groups of countries and
address their concerns earlier to prevent the unnecessary hardening of
positions that complicates the decision-making process at ministerial
For my part, I intend to immediately begin to look for ways in which to move
this process forward. This round is too important for all of us to allow
this setback to keep us from our objective — an ambitious and balanced round
that delivers better market access and more equitable rules for all our
member governments and for the people they represent.