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Hong Kong Leading Up to the WTO

December 9, 2005

by Becky Tarbotton and David Solnit

In the week leading up to the WTO ministerial, delegations of people and organizations from all over the world are arriving in Hong Kong to participate in the teach-ins, workshops and rallies planned to protest and derail the WTO. As has come to be expected at gatherings of the world’s economic elite, the convergence outside the ministerial will tell a multitude of stories that expose the truth about the impacts of corporate-led globalization and promote life affirming, colourful and diverse alternatives. The local coalition coordinating most of the activities outside the Ministerial is the Hong Kong People’s Alliance.

Who’s Coming: Large groups are expected from Asia and the Pacific Islands. Korean farmers, whose presence at the Cancun ministerial and the suicide of Lee Kyung Hae let the world know how deeply and immediately trade liberalization is destroying livelihoods, are on their way, along with groups from Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan. The US is represented by large groups of Asian Pacific Island community organizers and activists from several major cities as well as non-profit organizations from Sierra Club to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to Public citizen and individual activists, including APOC activists hailing from all over the country.

What Are They Saying: The message from civil society is simple – get rid of the WTO. Few groups are calling for a reform of the institution – common sentiment agrees that it is the system of corporate-led globalization itself that is corrupt to the core, not only harming the poor and marginal, but swelling their ranks each day. The successive failure of the WTO to reach any agreements in this round of talks is a clear sign that the system is faltering, and if this meeting is derailed it will be one of the final nails in its coffin. Below are quotes from groups around the world:

“The trade rules of the WTO are a man-made disaster negatively affecting the lives of millions around the world. Effective control of the WTO rests in the hands of the rich and powerful countries of the world, where they can shape trade policy to their benefit. From agriculture to health services, water rights and education, all fall under the scope of the WTOs rules, putting the interests of corporations above peoples needs. For these reasons, Bay Area WT-No unequivocally opposes any reform of the WTO system and calls for the derailment of the ministerial negotiations.” - WT-No

“We will stop talks and derail negotiations by organising intensive protest programmes in Hong Kong and in our respective countries as well…The trade negotiation and the WTO force nations, especially developing countries to open up food, markets, forests and public services for transactional corporations. This will have a devastating effect on millions of peasants, small-scale farmers, workers and indigenous people around the world”. - Via Campesina (www.viacampesina.org )

“Oppressed people everywhere must work in solidarity against the manufactured consent of the WTO if we want to see positive change.” - People’s Global Action

Atmosphere in the City: In the past weeks and months, Hong Kong citizens have been inundated with TV ads and press coverage that simultaneously trumpets the benefits of trade liberalization and works to generate a climate of fear around the anticipated grassroots resistance to the conference. Popular Chinese actors have been used to promote the propaganda that “WTO = Trade Liberalization = Economic Growth and jobs”. One Hong Kong activist said that: “This is brainwashing, pure and simple” going on to explain how unrelenting the government’s campaign to sell trade liberalization has been in the past months. The climate in the city is tense, with signs on public transport announcing the expected ‘transportation disruptions’. The area around the convention centre itself where the Ministerial will take place has already been shut down and security is tightened.

Bright points do exist – for example, the incredible efforts of Hong Kong migrant workers who are mobilizing towards a day of action on December 18th, the last day of the conference. The Hong Kong paper, The Evening Standard also reported on an incident earlier this week where members of the HKPA confronted Pascal Lamy (Director General of the WTO) and surrounded his car as he was leaving a meeting with Hong Kong Executive Director Donald Tsang. Said Hong Kong activist and writer Pranjal Tiwari, “With fear, apprehension and no small amount of righteous indignation, the paper wonders whether the Lamy incident is a "sign of things to come" in December. Let's hope so!”

Becky Tarbotton and David Solnit, Fellows at the Oakland Institute, are in Hong Kong working with social movements and grassroots opposition to the WTO.


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