Rocky start to WTO dialogue

Original Publication Date: 
16 October, 2005

Protesters swarmed WTO director- general Pascal Lamy's car outside Hong Kong University Sunday in what could be a sign of things to come between anti- globalization protesters and free-trade proponents.

Doug Crets and Kevin Rafferty

Protesters swarmed WTO director- general Pascal Lamy's car outside Hong Kong University Sunday in what could be a sign of things to come between anti- globalization protesters and free-trade proponents.

The protest came during efforts to open a dialogue between World Trade Organization officials and non-governmental organizations.

Towards the close of the NGOs Roundtable Forum at the university's Rayson Huang Theatre - meant to foster communication between dissenters and the WTO - protesters stood up with signs alleging government collusion with big business. They also demanded that industry chief John Tsang, who will chair the WTO negotiations in December, meet with NGOs.

Mung Siu-tat of the Hong Kong People's Alliance on the WTO shouted in English and Cantonese demanding a meeting with Tsang.

"Mr Tsang, we have waited for over a year. We have written to you and you have ignored us," Mung declared.

Tsang responded that he would "consider it, but you are supposed to be civil society, so you must be civil. I will not negotiate under duress."

When the protesters refused to sit down, the meeting was brought to an end and Tsang and Lamy attempted to leave.

But protesters - as angry at Tsang as they are at the WTO - chanted "Shame to Tsang" as the pair headed for their waiting vehicles.

Tsang quickly left in a separate car, but Lamy was stalled for about 10 minutes outside the theater by peaceful and mostly good-natured demonstrators who swarmed around his vehicle holding bright posters calling for an end to the WTO.

Lamy reacted by getting out of the car and meeting the demonstrators. He said he would receive their petition. It actually took a few seconds before the lead demonstrator could come forward with his petition.

Lamy smiled and shook hands all round, accepting letters and protest notes.

Just before he got back into his car, he paused and asked if anyone else wanted to hand him a petition or protest.

Then he smiled again and waved as university security guards helped part the crowd so he could drive off.

Tsang, who was the real target of the demonstrators, missed Lamy's smooth performance.

The NGOs complained bitterly that they had been pleading for a year for a chance to meet Tsang and he had not responded.

WTO officials flew from Geneva on Saturday to attend the forum, organized by WTO officials and the government's Trade and Industry Department, which is coordinating the sixth ministerial conference to be held from December 13-18.

The forum gave NGO representatives and the public a chance to speak their minds about the WTO and its effect on Asian economies.

The panel included: Chong Chan- yau, executive director of Oxfam Hong Kong; Elizabeth Tang, chairwoman of the Hong Kong People's Alliance on WTO; Professor Richard Wong, deputy vice-chancellor and chair of economics at Hong Kong University; and Eden Woon, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.

For nearly two hours, anti-globalization representatives and government officials talked past each other on subjects ranging from lack of democracy in WTO talks to officials' attempts to correct the perception that free trade is harmful.

In one exchange, a Filipino migrant worker charged that the WTO was partly to blame for Filipino peasants living in poverty.

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?we_cat=4&art_id=3595&sid=5025011&con_type=1&d_str=20051017