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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

What Happened in Cancun?

Now the dust is settling, this seems to be a useful question to be asking. The economist seems to think the intransigence of the EU and Japan was over agricultural issues , for Public citizens Global Watch it was the whole model of globalisation that came under fire. For Dsquared "the good thing about the Cancun collapse is that it allows us to get the measure of the character of the WTO as an organisation" while for Brad "You can be for the Singapore investment agenda. You can be against the Singapore investment agenda. But you are not allowed to be against it on the grounds that it is blocking the realization of a free society of associated producers".

The feeling I get from reading all this is that we are seeing any number of 'hobby horse' theories being given the run-around, but what we are not getting is any analysis of why this is happening right now. Not, that is, except from one Suresh Krishnamoorthy in Brad's comments column, who informs us without too many if's or buts that :

It is not that they (Europe, Japan, the US) are defending some high minded free market principles. India (software), China (trade) and Brazil (trade) have finally found the vice with which to squeeze the privates of the West. They want their long overdue pound of flesh and finally, finally they are in a position to demand it.

Now I think that is clear enough isn't it. Of course the Singapore issues have been around for years, of course they were always going to be on the agenda in Cancun. But also we could allow ourselves to note that the OECD countries are having a bundle of problems generating growth. They - more than many third world countries - apparently need another round of global trade expansion urgently. So why the reticence? Why the prinicipals and the sticking points?

Of course all of this could simply be incompetence and mishandling: when in doubt, this is often a safe theory. But could it just be that the rich countries are having second thoughts? It is too early yet to say whether Cancun will become the much feared high water mark of this wave of globalisation. Maybe it is just a hiccup along the road. But it is a question which is worth asking. I may not agree that the Hawley Smoot tarriff was the key to the great depression, I may not agree that protectionism produces deflation, but what I do agree with is the idea that any turning back on the global pathway will lead to more, not less problems, for all concerned.

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