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Anti-WTO Protesters Back on the Streets

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  • Lafadl Jogjakarta
    TRADE: Anti-WTO Protesters Back on the Streets Gustavo Capdevila GENEVA, Oct 10 (IPS) - Civil society groups will be taking to the streets beginning this week,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 10 10:45 PM
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      Anti-WTO Protesters Back on the Streets

      Gustavo Capdevila

      GENEVA, Oct 10 (IPS) - Civil society groups will be taking to the
      streets beginning this week, staging demonstrations around the world
      in the run-up to the December WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong.

      The organisers of the protests stress that the greatest frustrations
      to the trade liberalisation policy promoted by the WTO (World Health
      Organisation) have come at times of large-scale civil society
      mobilisation, as was the case with the ministerial conferences in
      Seattle in 1999 and Cancún in 2003.

      "When we look at Seattle and Cancún, it is very important to underline
      the role played by civil society in derailing these ministerials. We
      hope to play the same role in Hong Kong," said Filipino activist
      Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South.

      "We are going to stop the WTO negotiations because we don't see any
      good prospects for all countries, especially in Latin America and
      Africa," stated Iara Pietricovsky of the Brazilian Institute for
      Social and Economic Studies (INESC).

      One of the slogans launched for the current campaign, "Hong Kong will
      be the WTO's Stalingrad," clearly reflects the intentions of the
      non-governmental groups from Asia, Europe and Latin America that are
      leading up the protests.

      In the Russian city of Stalingrad - renamed Volgograd in 1961 by Prime
      Minister Nikita Khrushchev û the troops of the former Soviet Union
      dealt a defeat to the invading Nazi German army in 1943 that many
      believe marked the beginning of the end of World War II (1939-1945).

      But this time, it will be in Geneva, in the neutral country of
      Switzerland, that the anti-WTO protesters will launch their first
      battles in the coming weeks, before expanding their actions to other
      parts of the world, and eventually, Hong Kong.

      Activists place key importance on a series of WTO meetings beginning
      this week, particularly this Thursday's session of the Trade
      Negotiations Committee, the body mandated to supervise the overall
      conduct of WTO talks.

      The following week, they will shift their focus to the Oct. 19-20
      meeting of the General Council, which carries out the functions of the
      WTO in the intervals between ministerial conferences.

      This emphasis on preliminary meetings responds to what activists see
      as a change in tactics on the part of the WTO.

      They believe that the organisation is striving to ensure that
      negotiations are not left until the last minute, for fear of a repeat
      of the disastrously inconclusive Seattle and Cancún ministerial

      Consequently, the negotiations taking place this month in Geneva will
      be crucial to the outcome of Hong Kong, the activists maintain.

      The December conference is meant to yield agreements establishing the
      framework for the continuation of the Doha Round of WTO talks,
      launched in the Qatari capital in 2001.

      So far, the Doha Round has experienced repeated failures and broken
      deadlines, essentially because the industrialised and developing
      nations are defending opposing interests, and no one has been overly
      willing to make concessions.

      The main themes of the ongoing negotiations are agriculture, services,
      industrial tariffs, intellectual property rights and issues of
      specific interest to the developing South, such as special and
      differential treatment for poor nations and the pending application of
      measures already agreed upon to benefit them.

      According to Bello, it has been proven beyond a doubt that over the
      last 10 years, the WTO has consistently promoted the interests of
      transnational corporations.

      A prime example, he said, is the case of the pharmaceutical industry,
      and the efforts to undermine the supremacy of public health over
      intellectual property rights mandated by the Doha Declaration.

      Bello attributes the current stalemate in the WTO negotiations to the
      intransigence of the United States and the European Union (EU),
      "because the developing countries simply cannot agree to a new
      ministerial declaration that is absolutely lacking in terms of
      anything for them."

      In view of this fact, civil society groups in Geneva and throughout
      Switzerland have called for the joining of forces against "extremely
      bad" agreements in the first major demonstration scheduled for Oct.
      15, reported Florence Proton of the Swiss branch of ATTAC (Association
      for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens).

      The organisers expect to gather at least 5,000 demonstrators outside
      the WTO headquarters in Geneva for this mobilisation.

      In the meantime, at least 8,000 protesters are expected this December
      in Hong Kong.

      Bello reported that South Korean organisations are forecasting that
      between 2,000 and 3,000 activists from that country alone will be
      travelling to Hong Kong, along with thousands from nearby countries
      like the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.

      As a result, he believes there will be a bare minimum of 8,000
      protesters, and most organisers expect many, many more.

      Their goal in Hong Kong will be to prevent the ministers meeting there
      from reaching an agreement.

      "What we are precisely all about at this point is making sure that a
      deal doesn't happen, to show the developing country governments there
      are large numbers of people from civil society representing the
      interests of people in the developing world and elsewhere that will be
      very, very dissatisfied, very, very upset if a deal were made," said

      "We will be united by the slogan that no deal in Hong Kong is better
      than a bad deal," he added.

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