“An opportunity to alert Chinese workers”
Thousands of anti-WTO protesters are expected in Hong Kong, in December, when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) holds its biennial ministerial meeting to try to conclude the stalled Doha Round of trade talks.
The event will draw mostly young activists from countries such as South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan, in protest at the WTO’s neo-liberal agenda which seeks to boost the market access (and profits) of the big corporations at the expense of workers, poor farmers and the environment.
Laurence Coates, a member of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden), spoke to Hong Kong activist, Alan Wong, about this important event.
Laurence Coates (LC): How many are expected to take part in the demonstrations that will accompany the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong on 13-18 December, and what is the theme of the demonstrations?
Alan Wong (AW): We are expecting 10,000 participants in our Action Week, which targets the WTO’s attempts to further liberalise trade and investment at the expense of working people across the world.
LC: Describe some of the groups involved in organising the anti-WTO event and which countries they will come from.
AW: Locally it involves around 30 groups which have formed themselves into the Hong Kong People’s Alliance, with trade unions as the core. Internationally, there are
many groups already expressing interest in coming, including regional networks like the ’Our World Is Not For Sale’ network, ’Focus on the Global South’, ’Global Network’ etc.
LC: How has WTO membership affected workers in Hong Kong?
AW: The impact is less direct than in many other countries since Hong Kong does not have tariffs. Still there is an indirect impact. For instance, the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) agreement and the current negotiations on further liberalisation of services will put at risk the public sector in Hong Kong, in areas like sanitation, environmental services etc.
LC: How has WTO membership since December 2001 affected workers and peasants in China?
AW: The impact on China is much, much more significant. For manufacturing and services, the precondition for China’s accession to the WTO was to allow further penetration of China’s market and in the face of this challenge from the transnational companies, the Chinese government decided to restructure the state-owned enterprises (SOE) by privatising medium and small firms, while merging big firms to form monopolistic big firms. In the process, 30 million SOEs workers were sacked. For agriculture, cheap imported grain and cotton are already threatening the livelihood of millions of farmers.
LC: There are media reports of Hong Kong authorities warning against”violent” protests and promising a tough response. What’s behind this?
AW: The government and the business sector are exaggerating the danger, because the HKPA has stressed its non-violent position. They are doing this because they want to legitimize their attack on people who are against the WTO corporate agenda.
LC: The background to the meeting has been growing global strains – especially between the US and China – over textiles, exchange rates and corporate takeovers. What are the prospects that the main capitalist powers ho pull the strings inside the WTO will be able to get a deal – on agriculture and services – and complete the so-called Doha round?
AW: The ruling elites of developed countries and big developing countries like China and India etc know they cannot afford to let the December meeting fail again after the failure in Cancun. Because, even though China and India may suffer in certain sectors, as big countries they are still able to win something from further liberalisation at the expense of weaker countries. Not so for small and underdeveloped countries. However, given the charter of the WTO, these small countries, if united, have the possibility to stop the WTO from reaching agreement which may harm them. That is no easy task, but the
possibility is there. To conclude, it is difficult to assess the outcome of the meeting.
LC: In your view, what’s the main reason why our readers should book their ticket for the Hong Kong protests right now?
AW: The more people come to protest against the WTO, the more its corporate agenda is being exposed. And, there is also a China factor at work here. It is a good opportunity to alert not only the Hong Kong working people but also those in mainland China, who have been fed with so many lies concerning the WTO. The Chinese government has tried to paint a rosy picture of the WTO to legitimize its concessions to it. Now, if there are 10,000 common farmers and workers from all around the world to protest against the WTO on the doorstep of the mainland, the news will soon spread in the mainland and it may be a starting point for a re-thinking among people about the course the government is taking.