WTO – Cancún

A Missed Opportunity for Human Rights


CANCÚN, September 14, 2003 – The failure of the Doha Development agenda at the 5th Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation means that governments, particularly those from developed countries, must seriously re-think and reorient their trade policies. The last-minute attempt to place the Singapore issues ahead of agriculture was the last straw for developing countries.

“I support those countries which walked out,” said Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights & Democracy who has observed the negotiations all week. “We have known for years how important serious reform in agricultural trade has been. This is about human beings. Without fundamental change, we can anticipate the death of over 300 million people in the next ten years from hunger and hunger-related diseases. We know what had to be done: end the dumping that was destroying the livelihoods of small farmers in, give equitable market access to developing countries and place the right to food at the centre of the agenda. This meeting failed on all counts.”

The draft text released on Saturday contained so little for developing countries it was a travesty and developing countries responded accordingly. The proposal to bring three of the four Singapore issues to a negotiating phase, the failure to get progress on subsidies in agriculture, the lipservice offered to the needs of small economies and least-developed countries, the slap in the face to those seeking reform in cotton, and above all the failure to place trade negotiations in an acceptable ethical framework led to the failure of the talks. This is not a mere economic question; it is also related to social needs and development.

“Trade liberalisation is not an end in itself,” said M. Roy. “It is at best a means to another end, which is the full realisation of all human rights for all human beings. We cannot treat food and health like widgets. They are too important, too central to human life and ignity. And we are obliged by international law to protect them. We can no longer treat trade law and trade negotiations as if they had no relationship to human rights. I hope that all governments will be more willing to listen to that message. I hope the Government of Canada will support this view.”