Will Cancun Promote or Undermine Development?

From September 10-14, trade ministers from around the world will meet for the next stage of what is supposed to be the Development Round of trade talks. At their last meeting in Doha in November 2001, ministers recognized the inequities of the previous round of trade negotiations, the Uruguay round. This round was supposed to redress those imbalances.

One would have thought that the developing countries would look forward to the meeting as a chance to achieve a fairer global trading system. Instead, many fear that what has happened in the past will happen again: secret negotiations, arm twisting, and the display of brute economic power by the US and Europe--and by special interests in the advanced countries--aimed at ensuring that the interests of the rich are protected.

While some progress has been made in making the negotiations more open and transparent, efforts to go further have met with resistance, and for good reason: unbalanced processes help ensure unbalanced outcomes. Ironically, the World Trade Organization, where each country has one vote, might seem far more ``democratic'' than, say, the IMF, where a single country, the US, has a veto. Yet the realpolitik of economic power has ensured that the interests of the developed countries predominate.

Here is a short checklist against which to assess whether the outcomes of Cancun represent a move towards a true development round .