The five-day World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial kicked off amidst anti- globalisation protests to expose the widening gap between rich and poor even as its director general Supachai Panitchpakdi asserted that time had come for the 146 trade ministers to agree on removing barriers to trade.
"There comes a time when rhetoric has to be backed by action. The weak world economy needed a strong message from ministers in favour of freer trade," Supachai told the opening session of the fifth WTO Ministerial in which battle lines have been drawn among developing and developed countries on contentious agriculture and Singapore issues.
Supachai's appeal came at a time when 4,700 delegates fear repeat of a WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 that ended in deadlock across the table and rioting in the streets. The WTO is still to get over that debacle.
The aim of this week's session is to revive talks that started two years ago at Doha and are due to end with an agreement by the end of 2004 on further opening up of trade to spur growth in the world economy.
"We should learn from the past and face the reality that we cannot keep postponing decisions," Supachai said as some slogan shouting anti-globalisation activists, some of whom had their mouths taped, held placards denouncing the WTO as anti-development and undemocratic.
A large number of activists and farmers have also descended at Cancun for a protest demonstration near the meeting site. But police have barricaded the entire conference venue and was patrolling to prevent any untoward incident.