WTO ministerial : Kong Yee Sai Mau may lead to another Seattle

Updated: Aug 1 2005, 06:17am hrs
As Geneva is busy with talks, Hong Kong is preparing for a major resistance against unfair trade rules.

The Chinese government has geared up to handle over 10,000 demonstrators from all over the world likely to converge on Hong Kong. It is in constant dialogue with the Hong Kong Peoples Alliance (HKPA) on the WTO. It is identifying possible sites that can be used to stage public protests.

But the HKPA is determined to go ahead with the demonstrations. Kong Yee Sai Mau! (Protest Against WTO) has become a common slogan. The alliance has assured the government of peaceful protest and yet wants its voice to be heard.

The HKPA is joined by Korean Peasants Solidarity, Via Campesina and another body of Chinese peasants called Hong Kong Zigen Fund. They are expecting other civil society organisations across the world sharing similar views to join them.

What cannot be settled in Geneva would be settled in Hong Kong, the optimistic trade negotiators hope. The HKPA and its partners, too, believe that Hong Kong can render justice to farmers across the world.

The presence of Korean Peasants Solidarity reminds one of what happened in Cancun. A Korean farmer burnt himself alive and the Cancun ministerial ended inconclusively.

The firmness of the demonstrators on Kong Yee Sai Mau signals that the Hong Kong ministerial may end up like a Seattle if the voices of the farmers are not heard.

It all depends on how firmly or leniently the Chinese administration will handle the situation. The WTOs sixth ministerial conference is slated to be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. The government is planning to seal off parts of Wan Chai, including the Tamar site. There is a proposal to allow demonstrators in the Southern Playground and Victoria Park.

Hope the trade negotiators in Geneva, particularly those from the developed world, have heard the voices from Hong Kong. It would be better if they do so and act accordingly.

A just deal can prevent many consequences. Small and marginal farmers accross the globe, particularly those from the Third World have become aware of what they are losing out on account of unfair rules of trade. Unfair rules of trade not only cost the poor countries, but also consumers in the developed countries.

The consumers in the developed countries end up paying high taxes to fund the governments subsidy regime. The benefits of the subsidy reach the rich farmers in the developed world, while the smaller ones are marginalised. Hence, it is not unsual to hear voices of protest in the developed world against the unfair rules of trade. Such voices are being heard in the European Union and in the US too. In the US, some lawmakers recently called for a review of the countrys participation in the WTO.

The problem with the developed world is that over the decades, in the name of development and by adopting a truncated farming system, they systematically pushed a larger number of small farmers out of agriculture.

Few small farmers are still struggling for existence in these countries. Most of the lands are now owned by richer farmers or by agri-business corporations. Large mechanisied farms in these countries need heavy subsidies to survive.

Not that farming subsidy is a must. In the good old days of revolution small farmers survived in Europe without subsidy.

The systematic pushing out of small farmers from agriculture caused migration to cities, increasing the number of poor and unemployed. In the US, today, there are over 17 million people living way below the poverty line.

The developing countries have larger populations than the developed ones. If such truncated farm models are adopted in the developing countries, it would result in doom for farmers, cause forced migration to cities leading to slums and umemployment problems, which would in time grow out of control.

Unfair rules of trade have affected the common man across the globe. The governments in the developed countries should understand that fair trade practices would help the common man wherever he is. Fair trade can only become a reality if all subsidies are removed and the developed countries reduce their high tariff barriers. Subsidies cause a fiscal strain on the developing countries.

Developed countries, though they can afford to render heavy subsidies, but it is at the expense of the taxpayers. Hence removing distortions in trade will help both the developed and developing countries alike. A fair and competitive trade will result in greater inter-dependence amongst countries and people and effectively lead to need for world peace.

People have become conscious of their rights. Developed countries should understand that injustice cannot prevail for long. The sooner they heed, the better, or else Kong Yee Sai Mau may lead to another Seattle.