Protesters March On Cancun

9 September, 2003
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Protesters march on Cancun

Mark Tran and agencies
Wednesday September 10, 2003

Amnesty International, the human rights organisation, today urged the Mexican government to ensure the right of peaceful demonstration as police stepped up security for the opening day of the trade summit in

As police set up chain-link barricades and warships patrolled off Cancun's beaches, Amnesty sent letters to President Vicente Fox Quesada and the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, Lic Hendricks Diaz, calling
on the authorities to ensure that individual standards on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement were fully respected.

Some 4,700 delegates from the World Trade Organisation's 146 member nations were meeting in the holiday resort of Cancun for five days to try to break the deadlock in the current round of trade liberalisation negotiations as rich and poor nations face off over agricultural subsidies and foreign investment and competition rules.

The meeting poses a big security headache for the authorities as the event has attracted thousands of protesters who were preparing to march down the narrow, hotel-lined peninsula later today. Led by farmers from around the world, they planned to urge WTO members to ensure that any agreement protect their livelihood.

Police have steadily increased security throughout Cancun and two naval ships were stationed offshore. Protesters have been a force at every major WTO meeting since 1999, when violent street protests
disrupted a gathering in Seattle.

Yesterday, some 1,000 anarchists and leftists marched through downtown Cancun, banging drums and chanting anti-WTO slogans. They were forced back before reaching the meeting site.

In the most militant statement on Cancun, the Zapatista rebel leader, Subcomandante Marcos, urged protesters to shut down the meeting. "This is a war," Marcos said in a taped message to protesters. "Let's hope that ... the train of death driven by the WTO will finally be derailed in Cancun."

Supachai Panitchpakdi, the WTO director-general, has argued that a successful conclusion of the current trade talks was a key to reviving the world economy. "Failure is not an option," he said. "It would send a very damaging signal around the world about prospects for economic recovery and would result in more hardship for workers around the globe, particularly in poorer countries."

But the prospects for agreement, particularly on agriculture, look grim. As expected the absence of agreement on agriculture could be a deal-breaker at Cancun. Instead of rolling over as in previous trade negotiations, the developing countries are sticking to their demand that rich countries start scrapping their huge agricultural subsidies.

Four west African cotton producers have demanded an end to cotton subsidies, especially from the US, that they say are wrecking the lives of millions of farmers. A larger group of 21 developing countries have formed a united front to demand the elimination of all farm subsidies - something the US and the EU have said is politically impossible.

"The prospects of us in Cancun dealing with this extremely big and complex agenda are difficult," said South Africa's trade minister, Alec Erwin. "But
certainly, if you don't make progress in agriculture, the G21 grouping of countries have indicated there's no merit, there's no justification, there's no
validity in attempting to make progress on other matters."

The UK shadow international development secretary, Caroline Spelman, agreed that it was time for Europe and America to cut farm subsidies to help alleviate world poverty as part of the campaign against

"This round was actually launched two months after 9/11, when the whole world had woken up to the fact that if we allow people to suffer in abject poverty, it can create a breeding ground for terrorism," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Cancun is supposed to be a crucial step towards a new global trade deal by January 2005. But little has been accomplished
since the trade talks were launched in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001. Doha marked the first time that developing country interests were placed at the centre of multilateral trade negotiations.

A World Bank report released earlier this month said that a trade deal that addressed the concerns of developing nations could spur global growth and reduce poverty by as much as 144 million people by 2015, Nicholas Stern, World Bank chief economist, put the onus on the rich countries to take the lead in negotiating a fair outcome to the Cancun negotiations.

"They are the dominant players and account for two-thirds of the global market," Mr Stern said. "They could show leadership by reducing agricultural
protection, cutting high tariffs, and ensuring that the poorest countries have access to affordable medicines on the same terms as bigger developing countries."

The World Bank report, Global Economic Prospects 2004, also noted that developing countries, especially the more dynamic ones, could contribute to a deal by agreeing to undertake trade liberalisation measures
that would help boost global trade, and that were in their own interests as well.

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