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Cancun and Its Implications
November, 2003

Alain Rochevarge recently posed the following questions to Nicanor Perlas, Co-Convenor of GN3, for publication in  "Campagnes Solidaires" - the monthly French magazine of the peasant syndicate "La Confédération Paysanne" of which José Bové is one of the official spokespersons.

1st question : Nicanor Perlas, How do you interpret the Cancun collapse ?

Nicanor Perlas. The collapse of the WTO negotiations in Cancun signals a number of important global developments. First, it breaks the hegemony of the US-EU block in the WTO. Second, it indicates that Southern countries are now more assertive with regards to their rights within the WTO. Third, it is a very strong demonstration that global civil society, including the peasant movements all over the world, has increased its degree of influence and intensified its effectiveness as a third global power in world affairs, a third power in addition to the state and the market. Fourth, a powerful tactical alliance is shaping up between civil society in the North and the South, with southern governments. Many government delegates in Cancun consciously and repeatedly thanked civil society organizations and networks for the technical assistance and advocacy they provided especially for developing economies. Fifth, the Cancun collapse shows that, in terms of balance of power, transnational corporations do not have as strong an influence over governments when global civil society is unified against hegemonic corporate and state interests. This can be partly attributed to the fact that global corporations have divergent interests, and are not as unified in terms of advocating their positions with the WTO. But transnational corporate interest will continue to exert influence.

2nd question : What are the consequences of the Cancun collapse for the Philippines and for your work in the world?

The WTO talks in Cancun collapsed because of the debates over the direction of agriculture policy within the WTO framework. Increasingly governments in the South and even an increasing segment of neo-liberal media, accurately understand the hypocrisy of countries like the US-EU bloc, that demand agriculture “liberalization” while at the same time protecting their own agriculture with subsidies re aching $1 billion per day. mainstream, Thus even worshippers of the WTO see that the future of the WTO itself hinges on solving the problem of agriculture.

The collapse therefore gives an unprecedented focus on and priority towards creating the basis for a fairer and more sustainable approach to world agriculture. This means, among others, that farmer movements around the world have an unusual opportunity to shape the direction of global trade in agriculture.

After being so pro-U.S. for many years, the Philippine government, pressured by national and global civil society groups, joined the opposition to the US-EU position in the WTO. We therefore can develop a tactical alliance with the Philippine government in the months to come on this issue. At the global level, a similar possibility exists in many countries.

In France, this possibility for a tactical alliance with the state is reduced somewhat because the French government does not fully listen to the demands of its peasant movement. However, your peasant movement has quite a prominent profile and a voice in the global peasant movement, and through this, will be able to strongly influence the position of other governments, especially in the South. On the other hand, the current hostilities between the U.S. and French governments, over the war in Iraq, will mean that it will be difficult to have a unified US-EU position in agriculture, thereby weakening further the hold of the US-EU on the agriculture of the world.

At the global level the situation is quite promising for a major initiative by global civil society. Two months after Cancun, the WTO leadership does not see any clear road ahead beyond the Cancun stalemate. The G-21 group of nations that stalled the Cancun talks, are still basically intact even after intense bilateral pressure, especially from the United States. Therefore, our global network, the Global Network for Social Threefolding (GlobeNet3), is mobilizing its network nodes in 11 countries to develop a consultative process all over the world in order to come up with proposals on the agriculture issue. The GlobeNet3 paper will be one basis for strengthening tactical alliances with global civil society and the G-21, in order to resist further pressures from the US-EU bloc.

A concluding thought. Global civil society, especially the different peasant movements of the world, has the upper hand in the current debate over the direction of agriculture in the world. We should all mobilize to the best of our abilities to shape agriculture in such a way that it does not continue to become a curse for billions around the world, but that it brings continued blessings for generations to come.  - end -


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