Courtesy Reuters

Don't Cry for Cancún


Once, when asked by a student radical whether he agreed with Mao Zedong's assertion that a statement could be both true and false, the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser famously replied, "I do and I don't." Something similar could be said about the recent trade talks in Cancún, which collapsed in acrimony: they were truly both a failure and a success. The failure lay in the here and now, in the bad press and in the fact that no actual agreement was reached. But the talks also represented a success, which will soon become apparent: Cancún will serve as a stepping stone to a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, underway since November 2001.

The Cancún talks collapsed abruptly on September 14 of last year, when Mexico's foreign minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, pulled the plug following a stormy meeting. Immediately, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began to celebrate, and TV screens worldwide flashed scenes of Walden Bello, an eminent Filipino sociologist, dancing joyfully with fellow activists.

Less joyful were the two major players at the talks, the United States and the European Union, who responded to the breakdown by letting recriminations fly. The heads of both delegations -- Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative (USTR), and the EU's trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy -- had hoped for an agreement at Cancún that would let the Doha Round finish on time, in January 2005, when they both expect to still be in office. When no such agreement occurred, both rushed their grievances into print. Zoellick threatened in the Financial Times to shift Washington's focus away from multilateral pacts and toward bilateral agreements with "will-do" nations instead -- a threat that made him sound like the Donald Rumsfeld of trade policy, intent on forgoing multilateral institutions in favor of ad hoc coalitions of the willing. Zoellick laid blame for the breakdown of Cancún on the "Group of 22" developing countries (G-22) that had emerged at the talks, deploring their "transformation

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