WTO kicks open trade talks amid protests
Updated: 2005-12-13 21:51
HONG KONG - World trade ministers opened talks seeking a deal to cut global trade barriers and combat poverty as thousands of protesters marched in the streets, denouncing the WTO as an enemy of the poor.
About 15 activists forced their way into the conference venue in central Hong Kong to shout slogans as the World Trade Organisation's director general, Pascal Lamy, addressed the opening session.
Director General Pascal Lamy speaks at the opening session of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Hong Kong December 13, 2005. [AFP]
Ministers from the 149-member WTO will spend the next six days trying to salvage the Doha Round of trade negotiations, currently deadlocked over sharp regional disputes over agricultural subsidies and import tariffs.
Noting the difficulties ahead, Lamy told the conference: "Let us combine our hopes and strengths to advance the negotiations so that they can be completed in 2006."
Waving a large magic wand he said he had been given to help the talks, Lamy said he had no magic formula for their success.
"Some risks have to be taken ... Avoiding risks, including political risks, will get us nowhere," he said.
"Taking a bit of risk, a calculated risk ... will mean a chance for a level playing field for free and fair trade, in short for development," he said.
"Now the time has come to roll up our sleeves and work."
In the presence of a huge security operation, determined to prevent a repeat of violence that has rocked previous WTO gatherings, several thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong.
Under banners that read "WTO Go to Hell", "Junk the WTO" and "Fair Trade For All" some protesters called for the dissolution of the world body while others want the talks to pay more heed to the poor.
Mock coffins were a popular choice of prop for many, including a group of Indonesian migrant workers who carried one inscribed with the words "WTO Rest in Pieces".
Although the crowd was in bouyant mood, police were braced for trouble following intelligence reports that radical activists were planning to storm barricades around the convention center.