Nations at odds as WTO meeting opens in HK
Updated: 2005-12-13 14:11
Rich and poor nations were at odds as a World Trade Organization meeting
opened in Hong Kong on Tuesday, with trade ministers saying a
breakthrough is unlikely on the thorny issue of agricultural trade that has held
up negotiations for months.
representative Rob Portman speaks to the press ahead of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, December 12, 2005.
Trade ministers have gathered in Hong Kong to work on a deal to open
markets and boost the global economy, with the European Union quickly
under fire for its refusal to cut farm subsidies
At least 1,000
protesters - mostly South Korean farmers wearing red bandanas -
gathered at a downtown park to chant slogans against the WTO, driven by fears
that opening up their agricultural markets would destroy their livelihoods.
Police have blocked off access to roads near the conference site, set up
barricades and even glued bricks onto the sidewalks in the hopes of preventing
violence that has flared at previous WTO summits.
The six-day meeting
was meant to lay the groundwork for a global treaty by the end of 2006 that
would cut trade barriers across a wide array of sectors, from agriculture to
services, wrapping up the so-called Doha round of talks.
But an impasse
over farm trade has brought the negotiations to a virtual halt, with developing
nations accusing the U.S., EU and other rich economies of not cutting
agricultural tariffs and farm subsidies enough, keeping out exports from poorer
nations that depend heavily on agriculture as an income source.
trade minister, who has emerged as a key figure in the talks, said that while it
would be hard for 149 WTO members to reach an agreement on farm trade, he didn't
foresee an outright collapse like the previous ministerial gathering in Cancun,
Mexico, two years ago, which fell apart amid acrimony. Differences over
agriculture was the culprit there, too.
"I don't see a repeat of
Cancun," Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told the Associated Press. "Cancun
was an outburst of a lack of hope. Now countries are hoping."
Nath insisted that "developing countries do not want to see the perpetuation of
inequities in global trade."
He urged members to stay engaged in the
negotiations, and predicted that all parties would strive to make some progress
at the December 13-18 gathering.
"The next six days are going to see
efforts by everybody to move forward," Nath said. "But efforts do not
necessarily mean there will be results, because the issues are very, very
Commissioner Peter Mandelson has said that the European Union won't change its
offer of an average 46 percent cut in farm tariffs unless he sees some movement
from developing nations on offering to reduce their trade barriers on
manufactured goods and services.