By Carolina Pagaduan-Araullo
An unmitigated success
Protests continued to hound the World Trade Organization at its 6th Ministerial Conference held this month in Hong Kong, Special Autonomous Region. This time the protest movement was led by the Hong Kong People's Alliance (HKPA) composed of local trade unions, community-based organizations, advocacy groups and the vibrant HK-based migrant organizations of Filipinos, Indonesians, Cambodians and others. The migrant groups provided the bulk of those mobilized, not just in the street rallies but equally important, in the herculean task of preparing for the convergence of anti-"globalization" protesters on HK that began a year earlier.
The South Koreans came in large numbers, the estimates varying from 1000-2000, despite reported denials of entry for many of them. The Filipinos were a couple of hundreds. There were scores of other South East Asians and South Asians; the latter were mainly from India as the Nepalese, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi mass formations were disadvantaged both by lack of funds and apparently more stringent screening to acquire visas. Latin Americans marked their presence as well.
The marches and demonstrations were almost a daily occurrence that started even before the MC6 officially started. Oftentimes there were simultaneous actions by different delegations either by nationality or by sector such as the ones sustained by the disciplined and creative South Koreans and the colorful, energetic actions of the migrants, peasants, and youth groups. These fanned out in the Wan Chai district in the streets surrounding the Hongkong Convention and Exhibition Center, site of the MC6, but inevitably ended up at its heavily guarded perimeter.
A government-designated area for holding the protests at the pier adjacent to the site of the WTO meeting became the scene of countless rallies to highlight the people's demands. They were punctuated by the chanting of "Junk WTO"/"Da du sai mau" in Cantonese or "Down, down WTO"/ "Kong yee sai mau", cultural presentations, effigy and US flag burning, giant streamers and the women's variegated quilt containing sharp messages against the WTO and imperialist and neoliberal "globalization", the jumping of protesters en mass into the waters by the pier adjacent to the site of the WTO meeting and the inevitable clashes with the police.
Lest it be said that the HKPA-led People's Action Week was only about street protests, there were in fact countless forums, workshops, and cultural activities held by international, regional and national organizations. There was a forum sponsored by the International League on Peoples' Struggles (ILPS) on War and Trade that highlighted the relationship between the so-called "free trade" espoused by the WTO to imperialist plunder and wars of aggression against peoples and governments that are resisting the WTO-IMF-World Bank as well as the US-led bogus "war on terror".
There were the peasant and women's tribunals to try the WTO and other multilateral instruments of imperialist "globalization". There were workshops covering the adverse impact of the WTO after more than ten years, on almost all poor and oppressed sectors of society, especially in the stunted, backward economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. There were briefings by progressive experts, research outfits and lobby groups on the real issues and status of the negotiations in the WTO sans the world body's technical and political gobbledygook.
Thirty parliamentarians from 17 countries led by the Philippines' Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women's Party drew up a resolution entitled "Defend the right to development in the negotiations on services liberalization", were active in monitoring the progress of the negotiations from inside and in exposing the US, EU and Japan-led maneuvers to give the rest of the world a "bad deal".
In the end, that is exactly what the MC6 dished out. In the words of the Third World Network, a non-government organization dedicated to monitoring, analyzing and explaining the goings-on at the WTO as well as advising governments willing to listen and movements willing to learn:
"The developing countries gave in on the key market access issues of services and non-agricultural market access. In return they did not receive any significant gain in cotton, market access for LDCs (least-developed countries), or 'aid for trade', the three main components of a so-called 'development package'.
As for the 2013 end-date for elimination of agricultural export subsidies, the most publicized claim of benefit from Hong Kong, it was no victory. This greatest-distorting subsidy of all should have been eliminated many years ago, and no price should have been asked for it."
Months ahead of the MC6 there were forecasts by WTO analysts that no major breakthroughs in the Agreement on Agriculture would be inked because the advanced, capitalist countries that heavily subsidized their agriculture would not budge an inch in lowering their subsidies while continuing to demand that poorer, backward countries heavily dependent on their agriculture take down their tariff and non-tariff barriers.
There was also resistance to any further concessions on the General Agreement on Services (GATS) and on Non-agricultural Market Access (NAMA) until more than lip service would be given by the US, European Union and Japan to the promised aid and preferential treatment for needy countries in accordance with the much ballyhooed Doha Development Round.
Thus there was talk about another impending collapse in the WTO negotiations in HK, the same as in Seattle and Cancun. That did not happen. On the contrary, the advanced capitalist countries succeeded in papering over their differences as well as in bribing, hoodwinking, and arm twisting the Third World countries into signing an agreement in HK that would lopsidedly favor them and soften the ground for even more one-sided and onerous ones in 2006.
Does this mean all the protests were for naught? Ask any of the delegations and other participants who braved the government harassment and intimidation including immigration detention together with the brutal dispersal of demonstrations by the police and who bore the expense and endured the bitter cold of Hong Kong.
On the last day of the MC6 when the HKPA decided to push through with the planned march and rally to cap the week-long protests despite the police brutality the previous day, the morale was high and the call reverberated: Junk WTO! It was clear that the world people's struggle against the WTO and imperialist "globalization" must continue in each and every country so that governments are pressured to change their anti-people positions and /or become accountable and pay the political price.
Without a doubt, the collective protest against the WTO in HK was another high point in that continuing struggle and was in that sense an unmitigated success.#
* Published in Businessworld
23-24 December 2005