Scuffles and deadlock at WTO summit

Against a backdrop of violent clashes between police and South Korean protesters, delegates to the WTO summit in Hong Kong have continued talks to break a deadlock over world commerce.

    Nearly 10,000 demonstrators have travelled to Hong Kong

    About 50 Koreans, many of them farmers bitterly opposed to the liberalisation of their country's rice market, clashed with  police on Wednesday. They were forced back by blasts of pepper spray as they charged the front line of 200 officers in riot gear.

    The violence follows Tuesday's clashes which left at least nine people injured when the talks got under way as a peaceful march of anti-globalisation protesters, again mostly South Koreans, scuffled with police at the end of the march .

    Those clashing with police on Wednesday were outnumbered, almost three to one, by press photographers and journalists.

    The Hong Kong media has given near blanket coverage to a group of about 1500 Korean farmers since their arrival in the territory for the WTO talks, and has published numerous stories warning of violence.

    However, the large majority of the 10,000 anti-globalisation protesters that are in Hong Kong have voiced their anger peacefully.


    Global formula

    The scuffles come as the US warned ministers from the WTO's 149 members that the world would slip back into protectionism without progress in global talks to reform world comemrce.

    US Trade Representative Rob Portman called in particular on the European Union to agree on a "global formula" for opening government-protected agricultural markets.

    Rob Portman: We move forward
    or we risk moving backwards

    "I believe either we move forward or we risk moving backward towards protectionism that will stunt economic growth and harm the developing world most," Portman told the conference.

    Portman announced that Washington would double aid-for-trade grants to developing countries to $2.7 billion a year by 2010.

    That followed a pledge last week from Japan to provide $10 billion to help poor nations with infrastructure to bolster their ability to export, and an agreement by EU states to raise spending on trade-related aid to 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) a year.

    EU trade chief Peter Mandelson, blamed by many for
    holding up the talks amid EU refusal to further cut farm
    tariffs and subsidies, told delegates the world could not afford to wait any longer to wrap up the so-called Doha round of talks, originally meant to conclude by 2004.

    But he said the WTO's members would not reach that goal
    unless negotiations moved away from the sensitive topic of
    farm trade and strove to cut trade barriers on industrial
    goods and services.

    Finishing line

    "We will not succeed, in Hong Kong or after, if we continue to focus on only one part of the round," Mandelson said.

    "We cannot afford to wait again. When the finishing line is in sight, it is the time to quicken our pace."

    Mandelson urged delegates that
    it is 'time to quicken our pace'

    The December 13-18 meeting was meant to draw up an outline for a global treaty by the end of 2006 to lower or eliminate trade barriers in agriculture, manufacturing and services.
     
    Talks have been hampered amid accusations from poorer countries that the European Union, the US, Japan and other wealthy countries are offering insufficient cuts to their agricultural import tariffs and farm subsidies.

    Portman also pressed negotiators not to leave Hong Kong
    without setting a date for another meeting early next year
    with the goal of setting up a framework to complete the
    talks.

    "Although we may not achieve all we had hoped for this
    week, let us set another deadline to keep the pressure
    on," Portman said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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