NGOs urge WTO reps: "Stand up for your people"

Our latest dispatch from Hong Kong: The NFFC's Dena Hoff gives us an inside look at how the WTO tries to keep popular voices as far from the treaty deliberations--and from the press--as they can.

The official WTO ministerial opened yesterday, December 13th.

George Naylor and I are part of a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are allowed minimal contact with official delegates in a seaparte, secured area where delegates can come to see us, if they wish, but we can't go to them. When the ministers choose to have press conferences we are allowed to attend to represent the NGOS, but the primary purpose seems for the official delegates to be to have contact with the press, not the NGO delegates.

Officially, all the ag talks are around market access being pushed as development packages for the least developed countries (LDCs). Negotiations are not moving forward, as the European Union is not talking about market access. The U.S. delegates are offering promises which they can't deliver because of existing U.S. laws and because Congress must be consulted.

For example: Food aid being offered is not in the U.S. budget; Migration is an issue only the Congress can decide; and the concept of "Zero tariffs" has been rejected by even pro-free trade members of Congress.

The official ministerial opening ceremony was the only time civil society was invited into the hall where the deliberations take place. Several minutes into WTO director Pascal Lamy's speech, a group of about fifty of us disrupted him by standing up with signs saying, "WTO Kills Farmers," "Reject the Doha Round," "No Deal," and "Stand up for your people," and we chanted anti-WTO slogans. We were escorted out of the hall where we held two very good press conferences with reporters wanting to know why we opposed the WTO.

Outside the center, a large protest march was held by La Via Campesina and other groups. Two hundred Korean farmers jumped into the sea (Hong Kong harbor) in a symbolic action against trade policies whcih are destroying their livelihoods. Of course, this attracted lots of press. This morning's news on TV had a reporter promising to find out "what their beef is."

At Victoria Park groups from around the world are holding seminars, forums, and teach-ins. There are cultural events that include costumes, music, dancing, and food.

People on the street are learning about the WTO from visiting activists. Korean farmers hold a nightly candlelight vigil in front of the So Go department store, where they carry on a dialogue with shoppers to help them understand why they are in Hong Kong.

Everyone is unfailingly polite and helpful. The skyline is beautiful at night, but there is still no place like home.

--Dena Hoff