The Blog

Who Killed Cancun?

After the WTO talks broke down fingers were pointing every which way. Whose fault was it really? (And does the WTO have a future?)

12:00 AM, Sep 23, 2003 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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And farmers, who voted for Bush in overwhelming numbers in 2000, would hardly have rewarded the president with their votes again had he opened them to competition from African, Caribbean, South American and other growers, even if the concession had been made in return for an agreement by the poorer countries to open their markets to American manufacturers and providers of financial and other services.

So any tears shed by the White House at the Cancun funeral are of the crocodile variety. Zoellick, although probably more annoyed at the conference's failure than the White House politicos, can take solace from the fact that he can still pursue his alternative strategy of negotiating bilateral trade agreements with countries who find it to their advantage to do so. Pascal Lamy, the E.U. trade commissioner, says he might abandon his long-held opposition to such bilateral deals and reluctantly follow Zoellick's lead. But although farmers account for only 5 percent of the European Union's population and 2 percent of its GDP, they are sufficiently potent politically to prevent E.U. negotiators from offering the concessions necessary to forge significant bilateral deals.

Perhaps most encouraging of all was the failure of the developed countries' proposal to expand the reach of the WTO by handing it authority over the competition and government procurement policies of its member states. Any conference that prevents a multinational bureaucracy from expanding can't be called a complete failure.

Irwin M. Stelzer is director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, a columnist for the Sunday Times (London), a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.