A victory for the poor? No

 
By Heike Loeschmann
Published: Thursday 15 January 2004

A victory for the poor? No

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The failure of Cancun is not a victory for the world's poor. It is a triumph insofar it indicates a shake-up of the global power imbalances. The failure, if truth be told, suits the agenda of the us. It enables the 'us squad' to walk away from multilateralism and merely pursue national interests.

The g-21 countries are bound together against the 'indefensible' North as long as it suits their national interests. Whether the 'Don Quixotes' of the South make it a principle to work towards the inclusion of the interests of many is a question yet to be answered. Only by doing so can multilateral free trade be transformed into fair trade multilateralism. Brazil in the past did not compromise where its interests in the sugar sector were concerned, even though its approach hit the small developing nations hard. So it would not be wise to expect miracles. One has to look beyond the choice between multilateralism and bilateralism, and focus attention on the quality of whatever particular "-ism" is on offer.

It is not helpful to regard the us as a culprit whenever trade negotiations prove detrimental to the interests of the poorest nations. By doing so, one fails to take into consideration an analysis of the interests of emerging powers such as Brazil, China or even India. The us is merciless when it comes to the pursuit of its own agenda and interests. But playing the card of bilateralism in trade is neither new nor does it represent a complete turn away from the multicultural trade system. The us along with other powerful economies operate with duplicity and play both cards, but they still need the wto to pursue their interests. It is certainly not in the interest of the us to denounce the wto, while it has an openly declared policy to undermine and disable the Kyoto Protocol.

In trade negotiations, the eu also tends to travel on the 'ego road' and is not seriously committed to the Doha Development Round. But in climate negotiations it has a firm commitment to implement the Kyoto Protocol. The eu has always demanded the us provide alternatives to Kyoto. But so far, there has been no real opportunity to insist upon and secure a definite contribution from the us. Criticism about the advertisement of such a 'marriage' is appropriate, but an engagement should not be dismissed.

It is dismaying to note the 'myopia' and 'stupidity' that key negotiators of eu displayed both during cop-8 and the Cancun talks. Nevertheless, one must acknowledge reality -- the eu is more a federation of states than a federal state. Strategy games in negotiations are features that can be attributed to the us administration, not the eu. Therefore, if we do not want to lose more, we need to stop lamenting and self-pitying, and engage in informed pragmatic solutions to help develop, maintain and improve international governance mechanisms that ensure more justice for the less powerful and influential nations.

Heike Loeschmann is the director, South Asia Regional Office, Heinrich Boll Foundation.

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