Over the past week, Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has barnstormed across Africa as part of his ongoing campaign to rally the world's poorer nations - the "global south" - into working together to alter the course of globalization so it's more friendly to the downtrodden.
There's increasing evidence that Mr. da Silva -or Lula, as he is known - and leaders from other developing countries are succeeding. Rich nations like the US, which have long set the course of globalization, are shifting gears to at least acknowledge the lesser powers in trade negotiations.
It all adds up to "a new form of globalization emerging," says Peter Draper, a trade analyst at The South African Institute of International Affairs here. "It's not hugely different" from the rich-nation dominated version that has long prevailed, he says, but "slowly and surely things are changing." He adds, "You see Western powers adjusting, although at a glacial pace."
Last month, for instance, the US agreed to end export subsidies to its cotton farmers - a move West African cotton farmers have advocated for years. And in December the European Union pledged to erase its massive agricultural subsidies by 2013, which will help farmers in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere. As president of a rising agricultural powerhouse, pressure from Lula was instrumental in the US and EU concessions.
Brazil's Lula is hoping to accelerate that pace - and take advantage of the momentum of the US and EU agreeing to make limited concessions to their agricultural subsidies. His four-nation tour of Africa led to attending a "progressive governance" summit in South Africa this weekend.
The main focus of the talks between center-left leaders of Britain, Brazil, Sweden, New Zealand, South Africa, Ethiopia, and South Korea was on the stalled Doha round of world trade talks that aim to make trade freer yet fairer for developing countries. While World Trade Organization negotiations in Hong Kong in December achieved some progress toward a new trade agreement, wealthy countries and developing nations remain apart on a number of issues, most notably agricultural subsidies.
"Failure of the Doha round would seriously impact the multilateral system of doing things and would undermine the reform of institutions like the United Nations ... because this would mean the minority and less influential, mostly poor, or developing, countries always get nothing," said Lula, who is perhaps the leading advocate for developing countries in the trade negotiations.
The recent trade talk successes for emerging market economies are a sign of growing American acceptance of a multi-polar world in which the US is no longer the undisputed power, observers say.
The US and EU have always been mindful that Lula, along with South African President Thabo Mbeki, are relatively moderate pragmatists. Their views stand in contrast to leaders like anti-US and anti-globalization Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Indeed, say experts, the big powers know that without cooperation from Lula and Mbeki, dealing with Chávez will be difficult.
In the end, it's the Lula-style changes that can best uplift the world's poor, argues Francis Kornegay, an American analyst at the Center for Policy Studies here. "Only when you really begin to get this kind of [movement] will the [developing] world finally be out from under the legacy of European and Western domination," he says.
• Wire material was used in this article.