EUROPE AND the United States - so often economic enemies - arrive at crucial world trade talks today lined up against some of the poorer nations, insisting that developing countries must make their share of concessions.
The Mexican beach resort of Cancun will host delegations from the 146 nations represented in the World Trade Organisation who face the task of breathing life into flagging talks on global trade.
Yesterday the first protesters marched in the streets a little way from the five-star hotels occupied by diplomats and politicians. About 15,000 activists are expected. One of the first protests was staged on a beach when activists stripped and spelt out "No WTO" in the sand with their bodies.
Behind the security cordon most delegates are determined to avoid a repeat of the deadlock of the Seattle summit four years ago, something that the EU's trade negotiator, Pascal Lamy, says with understatement would "not be good news for the world economy". But to keep alive hopes of an overall deal by the end of next year, the delegates will have to overcome a host of obstacles. And the negotiation is polarised between rich and poor nations as never before.
Better organised, and galvanised by the sympathy for their case felt by voters in the West, the developing nations have become assertive. Nations such as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Egypt are now recognised as big players.
The most crucial battleground will be agriculture with ministers being asked to agree an outline framework to liberalise trade. Developing nations want tariff-free access to rich countries' markets and a reduction in their huge farm subsidies, with little reciprocation.
The EU and the US …