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WTO kicks open trade talks amid protests
Updated: 2005-12-13 21:51

Knots of heavily armed police patrolled the march route, which took protesters past some of the most expensive real estate in Hong Kong.

The protest was mainly peaceful although police used pepper foam to repel a small group of protesters who tried to push their way through police lines near the conference venue.

WTO kicks open trade talks amid protests
A South Korean worker fights with Hong Kong riot police as protesters try to march toward the main venue for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong December 13, 2005. Riot police used pepper spray to hold back anti-globalisation protesters in Hong Kong on Tuesday as a meeting of ministers from WTO nations got underway at a convention centre about 1 km away. [Reuters]
Key to the hopes of the world's developing nations would be a breakthrough deal to cut the massive subsidies paid by developed nations to their farmers. But hopes of such a breakthrough look slim.

Ahead of the formal opening of the talks, the United States, Brazil and India had lined up to put pressure on the 25-nation European Union.

"They are distorting agriculture and they should remedy that," Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said, echoing a steady stream of criticism of the EU's stand on farm trade.

The European Union, which along with others including the United States and Japan pays billions of dollars to farmers every year, said Monday it would not make further offers of compromise.

And on Tuesday, France said it would wield its EU veto if any further cuts were proposed. The task of the EU trade commissioner at the talks was to defend the EU agriculture subsidies and tariffs, French Agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau told the daily Aujourd'hui en France.

"That is the red line which must not be crossed," he said.

While the United States is pressing for a 55-90 percent cut in agricultural import tariffs, the European Union has offered reductions in a range of 35 to 60 percent.

On farm support, Washington has said it is prepared to cut trade-distorting sunsidies by 60 percent over five years, matched by an EU offer to make a 70 percent reduction in such assistance.

In the city-centre park where fair trade activists had gathered ahead of the meeting, one of the campaigners, Pawkhuser, who like many people from Myanmar uses one name, explained that as a refugee in Thailand earning his living by farming, he was one of the people made vulnerable by the world trade system.

"It makes life really harsh for farmers. My family are farmers. Before, farmers used cows to plough the land. Now markets have opened up and they have to compete with other countries."

Beyond EU farm subsidies, another key issue will be the subsidies paid to cotton farmers in the United States, with African delegates expected to mount pressure for those to be cut.

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