December 17, 2005

Protesters break through to gates of WTO meeting

By Richard Waddington and Susan Fenton

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Anti-globalization protesters fought
pitched battles with Hong Kong police on Saturday outside a
convention center where trade ministers from around the world
were making a last-ditch effort to rescue a global pact.

Witnesses said hundreds of protesters from South Korean
farmers' groups, who say free trade is ruining them, broke
through police lines to reach the building, although they were
prevented from getting inside.

"It is a stand-off at the building. Fifty riot police just
rushed inside the building. They are not allowing anyone out,"
said one Reuters reporter at the scene.

Smoke could be seen rising from an area near the convention
center where the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting is
underway and policemen could be seen preparing to use tear gas,
another Reuters reporter said.

The violence had no immediate impact on the negotiations
inside, where ministers from some 150 states were struggling to
reach some minimal accords.

Diplomats said a failure to resolve the sticking points
before talks end on Sunday would reduce the chances of a deal
next year freeing up global business in farm and industrial
goods and services.

"Either everything will unravel and we will have another
Cancun situation -- I hope it won't happen -- or we'll have
lowered ambitions in the meeting in Hong Kong," Kenyan Trade
Minister Mukhisa Kituyi told Reuters in an interview.

Kituyi, who has mediated on agricultural issues at the
talks in Hong Kong since they got underway on Monday, was
referring to the acrimonious collapse of negotiations on the
so-called Doha trade round at a WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico,
two years ago.

The United States put a brave face on the struggling talks.

"As we approach the final 24 hours of the negotiations, we
have a very large opportunity to put together an outcome that
would be extremely positive for development ... it is just
beyond our fingertips," said Deputy Trade Representative Peter


Outside, protesters stormed heavily-fortified police lines,
breaking through the front ranks as riot police used pepper
spray, batons and fire hoses to try to beat them back.

Groups of protesters were also seen running down
sidestreets close to the convention center trying to outflank
police lines.

Several tried to push over two police cars.

More than 20 protesters had been injured by pepper spray,
witnesses said, and radio station RTHK reported at least one
policeman had been injured.

A draft of the 149-nation organization's final declaration,
released after negotiators worked through the night in a
private "green room," showed there was still no agreement on
setting a date for ending farm export subsidies.

The European Union has balked at fixing a date because, it
says, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand must
agree to reforms of their farm export systems first.

The draft suggested a date of 2010 for the elimination of
the subsidies or within a period of five years but both
suggestions were inside brackets, meaning neither may be
adopted in the end.

"It's a sad day when we're getting excited about an
end-date in brackets," said Bob Stallman, head of the United
States' biggest farm group, the American Farm Bureau

One diplomat said representatives of EU member states were
told by negotiators from the bloc's Executive Commission that
they might have to agree later on Saturday to a subsidies
cut-off date or risk being blamed for a collapse of the WTO


The draft declaration also showed that there had been no
headway made on a plan to give duty-free and quota-free access
to exports from the world's least-developed countries (LDCs).

The United States has reservations about this initiative
because it wants to exclude some goods, including textiles from
Bangladesh and Cambodia.

"If nothing is agreed on the LDC package it will give a
very wrong message that the negotiators have been so
self-centered that they have forgotten the weakest part of the
international community," Anwarul Chowdhury, U.N.
Undersecretary General for LDCs, told a news conference.

Nevertheless, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim,
whose country is a key figure in the G20 developing country
alliance, said there were some grounds for hope.

"It's modest. It's much below what we had expected but in
any case at least we are starting to move," Amorim told

Supporters of the Doha trade deal say it could inject zest
into the global economy and lift millions out of poverty, but
detractors say it will only bring more profits for rich nations
and their companies at the expense of the developing world.

The WTO needs a blueprint for concluding the Doha round
within the first few months of 2006 if it is to have any hope
of finalizing a treaty by the end of the year.

(Additional reporting by William Schomberg, Doug Palmer,
Sophie Walker, Ee Lyn Tan, John Ruwitch and Dominic Lau)