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A Critical Study of WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Meet

By Dr.Tejinder Singh Rawal

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavours and furniture polish is made from real lemons.

Alfred Newman

India and other developing countries have secured significant gains in the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Agreement on duty free and quota free market access for 97 per cent of exports produced by the world's poorest nations and developed countries, eliminating all forms of export subsidies in agriculture, by 2013 could be considered to be the major achievements of the six-day meeting that concluded on December 15, 2005.

That developing countries were able to forge groupings such as G-20, G-33 and the much larger G-110 has been considered a great achievement at Hong Kong. What is of greater relevance is the fact that these groupings seem to have been held in the face of some intense negotiations and counter proposals from the developed countries. India proved its importance by assuming leadership of the developing world.

However, some members of G-110 and some anti-WTO campaigners have alleged that what could not be achieved in earlier rounds of negotiations by the US and EU, could be pushed through this time by them by winning India and Brazil to their side by way of doling out goodies to them and playing a typical divide and rule policy. India and Brazil played a large role in pressuring other developing countries to go along with what is essentially the US and EU's agenda.

In this article an attempt is made to critically examine where we stand after the Hong Kong meet.

Down, Down, WTO!: The meeting was held in the background of protests coming from many quarters. On Dec 11, 2005, thousands of locals, organized by the Hong Kong People's Alliance, marched along Causeway Bay carrying signs like 'Migrants are Not For Sale,' 'WTO Means Death for Thai Farmers' and 'Down, Down, WTO!' In spite of a local media campaign designed to instill fear of foreign anti-WTO protesters, groups like the Indonesian Migrants Workers Union, the Philippines Domestic Helpers General Union and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions still managed to recruit thousands of marchers for a colourful and joyous trek.

Right in the middle of WTO Director General Pascal Lamy's opening speech two days later, dozens of people associated with the global 'Our World Is Not For Sale network' - sporting a giant orange banner that read 'No Deal Is Better Than a Bad Deal' in 10 different languages, jumped up and chanted 'No More Lies, Lamy!'

Also on the opening day, a group of about 100 Korean fishermen jumped into the freezing Hong Kong bay, bobbing their message that the WTO's negotiations on fisheries would devastate family fisher-folk in favour of giant-scale corporate fishing.

Water activists from Bolivia, Canada, the Philippines, Uruguay and others unfurled a giant Water Out of the WTO banner in the main conference lobby. At a press conference launching an international campaign of the same name, leaders of the African Trade Network revealed how private companies in Ghana continued to cut drinking water service during a cholera epidemic that killed hundreds of people in his country, sighting this as the cruel outcome of rampant globalisation.

Star protesters were the Korean farmers and trade unionists. Each day they organized a different colourful, vibrant action, mostly in matching outfits and with militant discipline, such as the day they dressed up in similar long robes, took three steps, bowed and prayed, took three steps, bowed and prayed, over 1,000 times. The image of hundreds of outraged Koreans that had been plastered all over the local media was suddenly transformed into a compelling portrait of grief and reverence for life, beseeching trade bureaucrats not to negotiate away their futures. But after protesting peacefully every day, the Koreans promised they would ratchet things up later in the week. On Dec 18, farmers and workers from the People's Action Against Neoliberalism and Globalization from South Korea pressed up physically against police barricades and managed to get within a few hundred feet of the Ministerial meeting.

Standing off with police for hours just outside the convention centre, a few dozen finally managed to break through and scrambled towards the doors. Suddenly, the mood shifted. Police batons quickly reasserted power over unarmed protesters. Hundreds of people were beaten and well over a thousand people from all over the world were tear gassed while peacefully standing in an intersection. In the end, more than 1,000 people were arrested, most of them in the dead of night.

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