The security forces are there to confront demonstrators and prevent any kind of disruption at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings from 10-14 September.

At least 980 non-government organisations have been given accreditation by the Mexican government to attend the summit. But they will not be able to get near the ministers who will be trying to pen a new world trade pact.

Protestors call the WTO an evil spawn of multi-national corporations, and are suspicious of the motives of this week’s meetings.

High stakes

And the atmosphere inside the conference rooms are also set to be confrontational. The G-21 group of developing countries, representing half of humanity, stepped up pressure on the World Trade Organization on Tuesday to demand deep cuts in agricultural subsidies from wealthy nations. 

The group sharply criticised the chairman's proposals - backed by the United States and the European Union for failing to offer "substantial cuts on trade-distorting domestic support, substantial increase in market access and elimination of export subsidies."

"The WTO is raping the economy of millions of poor farmers around the world"

Alberto Arroyo,
Mexican Network Against
Free Trade

WTO officials see Cancun as a crucial meeting for the organisation. They fear failure of the talks to iron out new trade accords would negatively impact economic growth and jobs worldwide.

"Failure is not an option. It would send a very damaging signal around the world about prospects for economic recovery and would result in more hardship for workers around the globe,  particularly in poorer countries," Supachai Panitchpakdi, director-general of the WTO said.

"The weak global economy urgently needs a stimulant that significant further liberalisation of world trade can bring. A successful conclusion of the round is thus key to reviving the global economy," he said on Tuesday.

Agriculture main issue

Agricultural subsidies are at the centre of this week's negotiations with the United States and the European Union under pressure to slash the tens of billions of dollars in annual subsidies to their farmers and open up their markets to cheaper goods from abroad.

"India is losing $2 billion because of agricultural restrictions imposed by developed countries," said Vandana Shiva of the Indian group, Science, Technology and Ecology.

"Failure is not an option"

Supachai Panitchpakdi,
director-general, WTO

"The WTO is raping the economy of millions of poor farmers around the world," added Alberto Arroyo, of the Mexican Network Against Free Trade.

While both the EU and Washington have agreed that subsidies should be reduced – and in the case of export subsidies eventually eliminated – they have yet to agree on the pace of such reforms.

Possible walk-out

Australia and nine other countries have threatened to walk-out of the Cancun talks if no progress is made on agriculture, a move that would prevent a multilateral deal and  effectively freeze plans made under the Doha agenda two years ago.

Although agriculture is one of the main topics to be discussed, other issues to be debated include:

  • Special treatment for developing countries as they seek to implement WTO-backed trade accords that can pose difficulties to local economies
  • The time and place for discussions of new topics such as cross-border investment, transparency in government procurement and competition practices

WTO officials are hoping to make enough progress at Cancun in order to give negotiators something to work with when they return to Geneva

But a deadlock could further undermine the talks, making it virtually impossible to reach a deal before the self-imposed 2005 deadline.