WTO Talks Close with Partial Trade Agreement, Over 900 Protesters Arrested in Hong Kong

StoryDecember 19, 2005
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The World Trade Organization wrapped up its six-day ministerial meeting on Sunday with a partial trade agreement. On Saturday police arrested 900 protesters during widespread protests on the streets of Hong Kong led by farmers, peasants and union members. We go to Hong Kong for a report. [includes rush transcript]

Yesterday was the close of the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Hong Kong. Sunday wrapped up six days of talks by trade ministers from 149 countries looking to rewrite trade laws on agriculture, industrial goods and services. WTO negotiators cut a last minute deal on Sunday that would, among other things, end all agricultural export subsidies by 2013. Developing nations have charged that such government farm support to promote exports undercuts the ability of poor farmers to sell their goods. Many of these nations, led by Brazil, were pushing to end the payments by 2010. Non-governmental organizations expressed disappointment at the agreement. The relief agency OXFAM released a statement that read, “This is a profoundly disappointing text and a betrayal of development promises by rich countries whose interests have prevailed yet again.”

Thousands of demonstrators also took to the streets during the conference. On Saturday, almost 1,000 protestors marched, confronted police and tried to force their way into the conference hall. 900 of the protestors were arrested. Most of the demonstrators were South Korean farmers worried that the trade organization’s rules would require their country to allow imports of inexpensive rice.

  • Maude Barlow, the Director of the Council of Canadians describing Saturday’s protest. Courtesy, Carolyn Crane of KVMR.

On Sunday, 5,000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest the talks. We go to Hong Kong to speak with Anuradha Mittal.

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Maude Barlow, the Director of the Council of Canadians, describing Saturday’s protest.

MAUDE BARLOW: I have never seen anything as brave and courageous or organized in my life as the peasants, the farmers’ unions and the Korean activists. They came in, they were absolutely clear what they were going to do. They wanted to break into that convention center, and they were going to do whatever they had to in terms of tactics. They were so disciplined, and they split their people off in a number of ways so that when they get the police busy in one area, they break through in others. It got really brutal at the end. The tear gas was just everywhere, and the riot police came in. It was really, really ugly.

But I think they’re inside, the last thing we saw before we got tear-gassed was that they were inside. They had breached the convention center, which is incredible, because there are thousands and thousands of riot police here, and I just hope — you know, may I be right, but I fear that I’m wrong, that the delegates in there, especially the heads of the northern countries, are hearing why these people would put themselves through this. They’re the gentlest, sweetest, most dedicated people who are just as afraid of violence and, you know, the police and the tear gas as anybody, but they have such courage, because they have run out of options, just absolutely run out of options.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Maude Barlow. She is with the Council of Canadians. That was recorded in the streets of Hong Kong by Carolyn Crane of KVMR. On Sunday, 5,000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest the talks. We go now to Hong Kong to speak with Anuradha Mittal, founder and director of the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank that advocates for fair trade. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the wrap-up of the meeting, what the WTO has done, and what the people on the streets have done, Anuradha?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, Amy, just to put it very simply, in terms of the WTO, we have seen once again that this organization is a totally illegitimate institution, which is run by the United States and the European Union. What we have seen is basically this, you know, European Union and the U.S. bully third world countries and developing countries and LDC’s [Least Developed Countries] into accepting a deal that leaves very little for us to celebrate. There’s a lot of talk about helping and progress and development for third world countries, but definitely it’s not the agenda. Through arm-twisting, through briberies, through threats they have managed to get their agenda again.

But what’s most important about this ministerial is what we have seen in the streets of Hong Kong. It has been basically the inspiration of the people, and especially the farmers from around the world. I know we are hearing lots about the Korean farmers, but there were people from all walks of life. There were farmers from all over the world. I personally met with colleagues that I have worked with from Mozambique, the largest peasant organization in Mozambique, to people from America and Mexico, to colleagues from Spain. Farmers came out from all parts of the world to basically say that this is destroying their livelihoods. And finally, as Jose Bove put it, that we have nothing more to lose, and we are basically going to use the weapon that we have, our bodies, to throw them against the police, to throw them against the barricades, to say that this is immoral what is happening inside the convention center.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens right now, Anuradha Mittal? What happens with what the WTO has done and with this mass gathering of people in the streets protesting?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, what happens right now is that, first of all, they have supposedly a deal. But, you know, it has a long way to go before it actually really is implemented. So even 129 hours after the whole thing was negotiated, it is not much of a deal. But what we have is, countries — or the WTO has been able to save its face, that’s what it claims, that they have been able to save their face by having some kind of a text. And they’ll continue the discussions, and we will see a lot more pressure on developing countries to accept a very crappy deal that’s been handed to them before April next year.

But at the same time, the people are so outraged, the civil society is so outraged, and especially the farmers who are outside in the streets demanding basic dignity and demanding their livelihoods, that they have been outraged. And the situation right now is that 18 Korean farmers are being charged based on the so-called riots. The protests have been described as riots that took place the day before yesterday. The rest of the people have been released. So this is not over.

And the good news is that we will continue to organize, and the people will continue to organize because the so-called deal, which is being called a success for the WTO, is not really a success. And we have a much longer struggle ahead of us, and it was wonderful to see how the people of Hong Kong came out to celebrate and join the protesters in the streets. They recognized them, they applauded them. I was in the front lines. It was beautiful to see the young people bringing out the young children. They were applauding and saying, the local people of Hong Kong welcome you and support your protests.

AMY GOODMAN: Anuradha Mittal, I wanted to turn finally to Jose Bove, the well-known French farmer and activist who took on corporate globalization in France, took on McDonald by hammering on the golden arches that were being built in his farming community. He also was at the World Trade Organization protest in Hong Kong.

JOSE BOVE: We had to come here, and that’s what we tried to do. 30,000 policemen surround this building now. Is this democracy? How can we have transparency when 30,000 policemen surround a building, and when the delegation refuse to speak to the people? This is really impossible. That’s why we think that what happened yesterday night and this night, WTO is completely de-legitimized. And if they have at the end an agreement, this agreement is against the people. This is going to be an agreement against the people, because any of the delegates who are here ask to their own people if they agree with that, and I’m sure that the French government will not organize a referendum to ask us, do we agree with the agreement of the WTO? They will never do it, because they know the answer already. And each of the governments of every country who are here, if they make a referendum, I am sure the referendum of the people will say, 'We don't agree with what you are saying.’

AMY GOODMAN: Jose Bove, the activist French farmer. We have 20 seconds. Anuradha Mittal, what does this mean for China? This all took place in Hong Kong.

ANURADHA MITTAL: Sorry, I didn’t get that.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for China, since this all took place in Hong Kong? And we just have 15 seconds.

ANURADHA MITTAL: I think in talking to the local people here and people who are very involved in organizing in Hong Kong, it was huge to see the international community come out and protest. People are making linkages between democracy, as people were chanting for farmer’s rights, people were chanting, 'This is what democracy looks like!' And a lot of people were like very excited. So I think it has been huge.

AMY GOODMAN: We will have to leave it there. Anuradha Mittal, speaking to us from Hong Kong.

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