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Manufacturers, Exporters, Wholesalers - Global trade starts here.

WTO Conference in HK Warms up Amid Protests

Ministers from 149 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are gathered in Hong Kong today for the Sixth Ministerial Conference.

On Sunday, more than 3,000 protesters from Hong Kong and other parts of the world demonstrated along the city's narrow streets.

"We will tell the world loudly that we are against globalization and the so-called free world trade," a farmer's son Choi Kim-soo from the Republic of Korea told a gathering in Victoria Park, waving a handful of anti-WTO brochures. A second demonstration was planned for today.

"The parade on Sunday was peaceful and there's no chaos," a policeman surnamed Wang said.

The local government has dispatched about 9,000 police to secure the week-long WTO conference, the largest-ever international meeting to be held in Hong Kong since 1997.

Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher from China's State Council Development and Research Center, said that many protesters don't actually oppose free trade but the unfair international trade mechanism, which lacks transparency.

"They said if you are covered in the global regime, you will benefit from the free trade," said Mohiuddin Ahmad, an anti-WTO protester from Bangladesh. "But the problem is that developed countries have controlled world trade, while the poor countries don't have any say in it."

This conference is touted as a bid to move the stalled Doha Round negotiations forward. A framework agreement is expected to be reached during the conference, which would help push for the successful conclusion of the four-year-old Doha Round trade talks by the end of 2006.

Launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, the Doha Round aims to lower barriers to trade across the world and reduce poverty in developing countries. But negotiations hit a deadlock after the fifth ministerial meeting collapsed in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 over agricultural issues.

The European Union and the United States have been accused of failing to offer deep enough cuts in farm subsidies and import tariffs, which developing countries say have prevented them from competing effectively on the world stage. 

However, neither developed nor developing countries can afford for the Doha Round of talks to fail, which WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy warned could cost the world economy hundreds of billions of dollars in lost trade opportunities.

Under such circumstances, delegates would try to draft a "roadmap," highlighting what has to be done in the next year, and to hold another meeting in March to keep the Doha Round on track, analysts said.

And if the current Doha Round talks succeed, the developing countries will be the biggest beneficiaries, drawing two-thirds of the almost US$300 billion in global economic gains, according to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.

(Xinhua News Agency December 13, 2005)

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