The controversial issue of European and American agricultural subsidies will dominate the agenda at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico. A new grouping of developing nations has expressed doubts on the meeting's success unless substantial changes are made. This report from Mike Wooldridge:
This conference is intended to kick-start the negotiations on freer and fairer trade, with a particular emphasis on improving the lives of those in the poorest nations. Deadlines have slipped and it's long been uncertain how much progress could be made here.
Now, twenty-one developing nations have come together to say, in effect, that they believe the meeting will be doomed unless there's a radical shift by the rich nations. They call for an end to subsidies on agricultural exports, substantial cuts in other financial support for agriculture that distorts trade and substantially greater access to the markets of developed countries.
What's significant is that this initiative has brought together key nations such as China, India and Brazil and together, the twenty-one make up half the world's population and more than sixty percent of its farmers. The Brazilian foreign minister called it historic. British ministers here see it as part of the staking-out of positions before the conference. But they're not playing down the difficulties in overcoming the hurdles.