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Wednesday, December 14, 2005 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Study Shows Civilian Death Toll in Iraq More Than...
2005-12-14

Protests Continue at WTO Conference as Talks Stall Over Agricultural Trade

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The World Trade Organization has entered its second day of its ministerial meeting in Hong Kong. South Koreans have led attempts to reach the convention center by swimming across Hong Kong Bay. They have been blocked off by heavily armed police barricades and beaten back by riot police with pepper spray and batons. We speak with Anuradha Mittal, an expert on world trade issues in Hong Kong. [includes rush transcript]

The conference is the culmination of a multi-year WTO negotiation process referred to as the "Doha round" that began in Qatar in 2001. Trade Ministers from 149 countries are negotiating a series of multilateral trade agreements that would rewrite trade laws on agriculture, industrial goods and services. Much of the negotiations at the WTO meeting centers on agricultural trade laws.

  • Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of Hong Kong and Chairman of the WTO:
    Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a historic junction—trade, liberalisation and economic growth is a permanent goal for all of us as WTO members. While I acknowledge, in some parts of the world, this goal is seen as a threat rather than an opportunity, the negotiations under the Doha agenda must press ahead.

The World Trade Organization meeting has been met by thousands of demonstrators from around the globe including farmers, trade unionists, migrant workers and activists from immigrant rights and women’s rights groups. Earlier today, a group of militant South Korean farmers attempted to gain access to the WTO meeting by pushing through hundreds of riot police.

On Tuesday, nine people were injured when police used a skin irritant spray on a group of protestors. Hong Kong is staging one of its largest security efforts ever. Authorities say they want to avoid a repeat of the massive protests that shut down the WTO in Seattle in 1999 and disrupted the WTO in Cancun in 2003.

Before the meetings began, Hong Kong authorities tried to prevent many international activists from entering the city. Jose Bove, the prominent French anti-globalization activist and farmer, was initially denied entry into Hong Kong and held at an airport detention center until the French delegation intervened. On Tuesday, protestors sneaked inside the conference hall and disrupted WTO Director-General Pasal Lamy’s inaugural speech with shouts of "development yes, Doha no," and, "no deal is better than a bad deal." The biggest point of contention at the WTO meeting has been proposals to lower agricultural tariffs. Critics say such a move would benefit the rich at the expense of poor farmers.

  • Walden Bello, speaking at the WTO yesterday, Director of Focus on the Global South:
    Ten years of the WTO has brought nothing but more poverty, more inequality, economic stagnation throughout many parts, throughout most of the developing world. This is not an institution that promotes development. This is an institution that promotes corporate trade, promotes corporate profit, that promotes destruction of the environment. It is an anti-people organisation.

One of the largest group of protesters in Hong Kong are South Korean rice farmers who fear that new agreements advocated by the U.S and supported by the Korean government will lead to the disappearance of 3.5 million farming jobs and an end to food security for the country. During the last two days, South Koreans have led attempts to reach the convention center by swimming across Hong Kong Bay. They have been blocked off by heavily armed police barricades and beaten back by riot police with pepper spray and batons.

On Wednesday, the United States and the European Union clashed over food aid to poor countries. EU delegates complained that the US distorts trade and protects US farmers by sending food commodities to poor nations. And US officials have been pressuring the EU to change their farm tariffs and subsidies. The deadlock over farm trade has already led negotiators to lower expectations for the meeting’s outcome.

  • Anuradha Mittal, founder and director of The Oakland Institute, a California-based think that advocates for fair trade. Speaking from Hong Kong.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and chairman of the WTO, Donald Tsang.

DONALD TSANG: Ladies and gentlemen, we are at an historic juncture. Trade liberalization and economic growth is a permanent goal for all of us as WTO members. While I acknowledge that in some parts of the world, this goal is seen as a threat rather than an opportunity, the negotiations under the Doha development agenda must press ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Donald Tsang, chairman of the WTO. The World Trade Organization meeting has been met by thousands of demonstrators from around the globe, including farmers, trade unionists, migrant workers, as well as activists from immigrant rights and women’s rights groups. Earlier today, a group of militant South Korean farmers attempted to gain access to the WTO meeting by pushing through hundreds of riot police.

On Tuesday, nine people were injured when police used a skin irritant spray on a group of protesters. Hong Kong is staging one of its largest security efforts ever. Authorities say they want to avoid a repeat of the massive protests that shut down the WTO in Seattle in 1999 and disrupted the WTO in Cancun in 2003.

Before the meetings even began, Hong Kong authorities tried to prevent many international activists from entering this city. Jose Bove, the prominent French anti-globalization activist and farmer was initially denied entry into Hong Kong and held at an airport detention center until the French delegation intervened. On Tuesday, protesters sneaked inside the conference hall and disrupted WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy’s inaugural speech with shouts of "Development, yes! Doha no!" and "No deal is better than a bad deal." The biggest point of contention at the WTO meeting has been proposals to lower agricultural tariffs. Critics of this say such a move would benefit the rich at the expense of poor farmers.

This is Walden Bello, speaking the at WTO yesterday. He is Director of the Focus on the Global South.

WALDEN BELLO: Ten years of the WTO has brought nothing but more poverty, more inequality, economic stagnation throughout many parts — throughout most of the developing world. This is not an institution that promotes development. This is an institution that promotes corporate trade, that promotes corporate profit and that promotes destruction of the environment. It is an anti-people organization.

JUAN GONZALEZ: A report from the 2003 WTO meeting. On Wednesday, the United States and the European Union clashed over food aid to poor countries. EU delegates complained that the US distorts trade and protects US farmers by sending food commodities to poor nations, and US officials have been pressuring the EU to change their farm tariffs and subsidies. The deadlock over farm trade has already led to negotiators to lower expectations for the meeting’s outcome. To get the latest, we’re joined on the phone from Hong Kong by Anuradha Mittal. She’s the founder and director of the Oakland Institute. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ANURADHA MITTAL: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, could you tell us what happened yesterday, and what are the prospects for any kind of impact from the citizen and progressive movement on the WTO meeting?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, what we saw yesterday was outside, first of all, the voices of people whose lives have been directly impacted. As you mentioned, the farmer’s movement, the migrant workers, who have been clashing with the police to ensure that their voices are heard in the convention center, while at the convention center, we are hearing this delusional talk of a development package and aid for trade, basically attempts by the US and the EU to bribe developing countries and the LDCs into agreeing to move the talks further, but the issue is not just that the protesters are outside in the streets, but also inside the convention center. We have seen protests from civil society representatives, whether it was Pascal Lamy’s speech where he was talking about development package for developing countries, where representatives stood up to basically challenge this whole myth of development being a part of the Doha round.

At the same time, we have seen a complete — you know, talks have been stalled around trade and agriculture. There’s a lot of pressure on the US and the EU, that they would have to actually go beyond these lies and promises that they make around, you know, removal of subsidies and there has been no movement on that. In fact, Peter Mandelson has come out to clearly say that EU is not in a position to go to the farm subsidies right now. So, we are seeing the movement from G20, which has emerged as an alternative power at the Cancun ministerial, that are demanding real justice in agricultural subsidies, at the same time the farmers outside the convention center are demanding food sovereignty.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you go a little bit more into the substance of the battle, because food, obviously, and agriculture are such essential part of the debate, in terms of what the civil society movements are pressing and the farmers are pressing versus what the WTO continues to consider?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, I think the simplest way to put that would be that the farmers are demanding market access, but they’re demanding market access to their own countries, to their own communities. And they are challenging this cheap subsidized food, which is dumped from countries such as the United States and the European Union countries into their countries. Basically what it’s resulting in is that we have almost 500 farmers being displaced in Mexico each day. We have over a million farmers, according to the Indian government, being displaced from their land each year. And the result of that, in my country, India, has been that over 40,000 farmers are estimated to have taken their own lives.

In the name of this current agricultural market access that was promised to third world countries, we have seen our own markets being taken over by agribusinesses, such as Cargill and ADM. And this is what the farmers are protesting, whether it has been the South Korean farmers who are challenging the taking over of the rice markets in the country, or whether it is the cotton growers from Africa. They’re basically demanding justice now, where they’re saying that they need food for their families and communities instead of World Trade Organization, which has converting food into basically all about an agriculture into trade into commodities.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the police and security response this time around? As many WTO meetings obviously have been marked by heavy, heavy security and police violence, what’s been the situation in the streets this time?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, you know, World Trade Organization which talks about removing barriers has been one of the best institutions at imposing huge big barriers and to make sure that the voices of people are kept away from the trade negotiators. This is really an attempt once again that we are seeing of keeping the voices of people who are directly impacted by decisions that will be taken at the Hong Kong ministerial. We have seen the Korean farmers jump into the harbor yesterday in the cold water just to be able to have their voice heard at the convention center. We have seen them being pepper sprayed today in the streets of Hong Kong, just because they have tried to get close to the convention center. So, while they are talking about dismantling of trade barriers, we are seeing these barricades go higher and higher at every ministerial, because this institution is illegitimate, and that’s what the people are reporting from the streets.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the — we saw in Seattle, for instance, during the '99 protest and the meetings in Seattle, that many of the smaller third world countries became emboldened by the protest in the streets and actually began to take a stronger line against the advanced industrial countries within the meetings themselves. Is this happening once again this time around or have the larger industrial countries been able to bring many of the countries of the South's leaders into line?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, definitely, we are seeing a lot of resentment. I have been to press conferences by the Indian Minister of Trade, Mr. Kamal Nath, as well as the Brazilian WTO Ambassador. And that is why we are seeing attempts by US and EU to try to bribe these countries by their offer of this development package, as well as this trade for aid. In fact, US yesterday declared that they would be increasing the aid for trade programs and increasing the amount by 2010. Now, these are false promises, because as their press release actually acknowledges, it is making a false promise, because its own briefing papers acknowledge that this promise is subject to president’s budget request being approved. So, we are seeing false promises, because we know that this budget request is not going to be approved. And this is lies to developing countries to get them to get off their resentment.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to thank you very much for being with us, Anuradha Mittal, founder and director of a policy think tank, the Oakland Institute. She spent nearly a decade at the institute for food and development policy, known as Food First. She has joined us from Hong Kong.

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