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TRADE: WTO Talks Resume in Face of Protests

Peter Costantini

SEATTLE, Dec 1 1999 (IPS) - Delegates to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference struggled Wednesday to resume their talks aimed at breaking down barriers to global commerce, after a day of violent street protests marred the opening session.

US President Bill Clinton was scheduled to address the WTO’s third ministerial conference as police announced plans to bar demonstrators from the area near the convention centre where the talks were being held.

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, who declared a civil emergency and imposed a curfew late Tuesday, said Wednesday morning “I think we have secured the town.”

Washington Governor Gary Locke called out 200 members of the National Guard and 300 state troopers to reinforce riot police who battled protesters with tear gas and pepper spray on the opening day of the conference.

About 5,000 protesters confronted police Tuesday, while some other activists and unionists held a peaceful march through the streets of Seattle. Later, a handful of demonstrators rampaged through the downtown business area, shattering store windows and looting shops.

The violence kept many delegates from reaching the conference site, causing the cancellation of the formal opening, but the first of a series of plenary sessions began as scheduled Tuesday afternoon.

WTO Director General Mike Moore insisted that “this conference will be a success. The issues are far too important tio be ignored.”

Protesters, however, remained opposed to the WTO, claiming that it considered only the needs of giant multinational corporations at the expense of workers’ rights and the environment.

While demonstrators were jubilant over their success in disrupting the agenda, leaders of major environmental organisations criticised the tactics of some protestors.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said he “deplored the violence…which is usurping the real story of 50,000 people who stood together to demand respect for workers and the environment.”

Patti Goldman, managing attorney with Earth Justice Legal Defence Fund, also condemned the violence which “only obscures the message.”

“There are valid arguments to be made to the WTO and the Clinton administration about a critical need for fundamental reform of trade rules to protect our health and our environment,” she said. “A handful of anarchists should not drown out the message of thousands of peaceful marchers.”

A Venezuelan deleate to the conference told IPS that the real issue at the conference was that “we now have less time to discuss substance; this especially is a problem for developing countries. We need more time to analyse and respond to the demands of the richer countries.”

Clinton, a champion of free trade, nevertheless expressed sympathy for the demands of demonstrators and said he would meet some of the groups during his Seattle visit.

He was expected to stress the need for the new round of trade negotiations to take greater account of labour and environmental standards. The United States is seeking to create a panel within the WTO to address labour issues but this proposal is opposed by several developing nations who see it as a protectionist ploy by the rich, developed nations.

The WTO chief Mike Moore, however, says that people wanting to destory the world trade body were working against poor people and developing countries.

“To those who argue that we should stop our work, I say: tell that to the poor, to the marginalised around the world who are looking to us to help them,” Moore said.

 
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TRADE: WTO Talks Resume in Face of Protests

Peter Costantini

SEATTLE, Dec 1 1999 (IPS) - Delegates to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference struggled Wednesday to resume their talks aimed at breaking down barriers to global commerce, after a day of violent street protests marred the opening session.
(more…)

 
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