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Europe

European Press Review: WTO Faces Tough Talks in Cancun

European papers discussed the world trade talks in Mexico, as well as the ongoing violence in the Middle East on Wednesday.

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Workers prepare to raise a banner announcing the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico

The Times of London says that for a brief period, it seemed U.S. President George W. Bush could play a decisive role in bringing about peace in the Middle East. But the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Prime Minister has once again worsened the situation. The paper stressed that the concern now is that the Israelis will take action that could further complicate the peace process, such as sending Yassir Arafat into exile. The U.S. is the only voice which both sides will listen to, but it remains to be seen whether Washington is willing to take a fresh diplomatic initiative to stop the spiral of violence.

Italy's La Stampa suggested Yassir Arafat and his designated Prime Minister Ahmed Korei were most probably warned about the most recent suicide bombing ahead of time. But neither Arafat nor Korei did anything to stop it -- and that on the same day the whole world was discussing whether Korei was the man to bring the Middle East roadmap back on track. The paper also believes Israel may now send Arafat into exile, re-occupy Gaza and either arrest or eliminate Mahmoud al-Zahar, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

The Frankfurter Rundschau concluded that when participants in the world trade talks in Cancun ask themselves how far have they come in negotiating a global trade pact, the honest answer will be disappointing. Four West African nations are threatening to put up a fight against the U.S. billion dollar subsidy scheme which distorts cotton prices on the world market. What's important here, said the paper, is not justice within the WTO but also fairness. What the African nations are calling for is simply that their products have free access to western markets -- something the free trade advocates in the west regularly preach. If fairness isn't taken sufficiently into account at this conference, the WTO faces some tough talks.

Düsseldorf's Handelsblatt agreed that the 146 trade ministers meeting in Cancun have a gruelling five days of negotiations ahead. The global trade talks have been dubbed the "development round," but as yet, noted the paper, the big trading blocks have not translated their promises of cutting tarifs and agricultural subsidies into action. But the paper said it's less about moral obligations -- if the industrialized states don't make larger concessions, they won't be able to push through their own demands.

According to London's The Independent, the detail of world trade negotiations is notoriously boring -- but behind all the figures, acronyms and jargon lies a stark and shocking fact: vast numbers of Africans are dying unnecessarily because of the policies of rich nations. If Africa could lift its share of trade by just one percent, 128 million people would be lifted out of extreme poverty. "We've had enough 'development round' rhetoric," says the paper -- and warns that "Cancun is a defining moment for attempts to reduce world poverty and reform the unfair trade rules which disadvantage poor countries."

Parisian daily Libération said the WTO is in danger of being crippled by the Americans and Europeans, who continuously preach the free trade agenda while shamelessly breaching the rules of the game with their generous agriculture subsidies that push the poorest further into misery. But most countries, from China to tiny Costa Rica, know that without the WTO, the first victims of a return to protectionism and trade wars would be the poor.