The collapse of the WTO talks in Cancún is in fact a profoundly hopeful turn of events. The developing nations have found their voice–and power. Led by Brazil and including both India and China, the “Group of 22” made it clear that while they recognize the necessity of global rules on trade and investment, they want those rules written to benefit their citizens, not the multinationals that have virtually dictated trade policy for the past thirty years.
Cancún also marked another step in the development of global citizen activism. Farmers, students and union activists from Mexico and other parts of the global South were not only in the streets but in the seminars; showing a growing sophistication about tactics, they lobbied officials and educated the press.
We can expect the powerful, starting with the United States, to resist change aggressively. But politicians in the advanced countries should see what has happened as a chance to restart the process of globalization in a way that works for all. Many are ready to consider alternatives, according to Congressman Sherrod Brown, who points to the size of the no vote in the House in July on two bilateral free-trade pacts with Singapore and Chile. “There is a consensus that free trade is not working,” Brown said during a visit to the Nation offices on the day after the WTO collapse. The next big battleground will be the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement–opponents call it “NAFTA on steroids”–which the Administration wants approved next year.
Cancún, as Ecuadorean delegate Ivonne Juez de Baki observed, is “not the end,” as WTO supporters termed it. Instead, “it’s the beginning of a better future for everyone.”