Protesters Attempt to Influence World Trade Talks

HONG KONG, China, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - Campaigners today delivered a petition to World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy during trade talks taking place at the Hong Kong Convention Centre.

The petition opposing the WTO trade dispute over genetically modified (GM) food filed by the United States, Argentina and Canada was signed by more than 135,000 people from 100 countries and more than 740 organizations representing 60 million people.

French Farmer José Bové, Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva, and Caroline Lucas, Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the UK, are among those who delivered the petition.

Bové said, "Farmers and consumers strongly oppose genetically modified organisms. We will take action to keep Europe free from GMOs and to protect the world from GM farming."

Through the petition citizens ask the WTO not to undermine the right of individual countries, in this case European countries, to take appropriate steps to protect their farmland, environment and consumers from the risks posed by genetically modified foods and crops.

Green Party WTO delegate Caroline Lucas MEP said, "The right of individual countries to decide whether or not to allow GMOs in their food chains or their environment is a key element of the democratic principles which are supposed to underpin the EU itself. Neither the WTO nor the EU have any right to overrule the clear majority of EU citizens who do not want GMOs in their communities."

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Protesters face off with police in Hong Kong. (Photo credit unknown)
In their complaint United States, Argentina and Canada allege that the Europe Union has refused to give the approval to a number of new genetically modified foods, has stopped processing the applications for new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and has not taken action to stop EU member states from banning genetically modified products.

The U.S. argues that Europe’s position on GMOs violates WTO rules and is a barrier to trade. In particular, it claims that US farmers have lost exports because they grow GM crops not approved in Europe.

President George W. Bush later added that the EU’s moratorium was impeding efforts to feed the world. “European governments should join - not hinder - the great cause of ending hunger in Africa,” he said.

Indian Ecologist Vandana Shiva said in Hong Kong, "The transatlantic trade dispute shows the worst face of the WTO. Despite the fact that the UN Biosafety Protocol allows countries to use the Precautionary Principle to ban the import of GMOs, the WTO may force feed us GMOs anyway"

The WTO is expected to issue an interim ruling on January 5, 2006. In line with WTO secrecy, the draft ruling will only be made available to the countries in the dispute. This will form the basis for the final ruling expected later on in March or April.

Friends of the Earth International Chair Meena Raman said in Hong Kong, "The WTO should not force anybody to eat genetically modified foods. The WTO is the wrong place to be deciding what we eat and how we protect our environment. It is time for the WTO to get its hands off our food! "

The danger that current WTO trade negotiations pose to people and their environment is exposed in a new report, "The Tyranny of Free Trade," published Thursday by Friends of the Earth International. On the same day as 750,000 votes for trade justice were delivered to Tony Blair in an attempt to influence British negotiators.

The trade report presents a series of case studies from the Seychelles to Indonesia exposing the environmental and social impacts of current free trade policies in including damage to forests, fisheries, food, minerals, water and biodiversity.

The report shows that intensive agricultural practices and liberalized international trade are leading to social disruption, environmental damage and even hunger, particularly in developing countries.

Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to market opening pressures and often forced from their land when it is converted to plantations or planted with crops for export, according to "The Tyranny of Free Trade."

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Speakers address the WTO delegates inside the Hong Kong Convention Centre. (Photo courtesy WTO)
Friends of the Earth's Trade Campaigner Eve Mitchell, said, "The mounting evidence from the World Bank, United Nations, World Resources Institute and our own research shows that the current system is making poor people poorer. Instead of basing trade on sensible resource management, it puts profits for big business first. The UK government fully supports proposals at the WTO that take us in the wrong direction, despite promising us otherwise. This can't continue."

Ronnie Hall, Friends of the Earth International's trade campaigner and one of the report's authors, said, "The myth of unfettered free trade as a solution to poverty needs to be exploded. Regional and bilateral trade agreements running in parallel are as untransparent and as harmful as the WTO."

"What we need now is a halt to trade liberalization negotiations and an urgent review of the impacts of international trade rules on poor people and the environment," Hall said.

Ministers from 149 member nations of the World Trade Organization met Tuesday to open the Sixth Ministerial Conference in a new effort to push forward the stalled Doha Round trade talks.

At the same time, more than 5,000 protesters from South Korea, Japan, India, the Philippines and some African and European countries staged a demonstration outside the Convention and Exhibition Center where the meeting is being held.

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Korean protesters confront police. (Photo by Lee Jin-man)
Korean demonstrators clashed with police as they tried to break a police roadblock set up to prevent people from entering a forbidden zone around the Convention Center. Police used pepper spray to break up the demonstration, spraying several reporters in the process.

About 100 anti-WTO demonstrators, including Koreans and Hong Kong residents jumped into the sea near Wanchai as a form of protest. Some demonstrators tried to swim to the Convention Centre, but they could not get on the shore as they were surrounded by the police. Some demonstrators brought along a wooden altar and tried to light it with fire but were stopped by the police.

This is the second anti-WTO demonstration held in Hong Kong this week. Thousands of anti-globalization and anti-WTO protesters took to the streets on Sunday.

The organization Stop WTO Hong Kong said its members object to the trade organization because it promotes an "unjust world economic order."

"The WTO sanctions the exploitation of people and of nature to secure profits of transnational corporations and elites," the group said. "Our fight is for a world economy based on solidarity among human beings and life in harmony with the environment."

Inside the conference hall, Hong Kong, China’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang formally opened the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference, saying, "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. We must vigorously defend the integrity and effectiveness of the multilateral trading system."