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The BBC's Peter Moegan
"Britain's Trade Secretary believes those rules have too often favoured only the rich nations"
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Paul Reynolds reports from Seattle
"Noise of chants and drums"
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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 21:52 GMT
Protests disrupt trade talks
Protesters blockade the conference centre

US police fired tear gas as thousands of protesters took to the streets of Seattle in an effort to disrupt a meeting of the World Trade Organisation.

The battle for free trade
The demonstrators had chained themselves together and were lying in the road in an attempt to prevent the trade delegates from attending the opening sessions.

The crowd scattered but then re-grouped as police cleared a way for arriving delegates.

Whose world? Our world! Whose streets? Our streets!
Protesters' chant
WTO sources said the opening ceremonies were delayed because UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was unable to get to the venue.

A Colombian delegation headed by foreign trade minister Martha Lucia Ramirez was reported to have been attacked by demonstrators who banged on the roof of their car before police dispersed them.

US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky, secretary of Commerce William Daley and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman were forced to cancel a briefing on the state of trade talks due to the protests.

Activists had vowed to shut down the city in protest at the effect free trade was having on jobs and the environment.

Mr Annan, who is opening the new round of trade talks, is expected to warn leaders that they must extend the benefits of free trade to all countries if they are to overcome political opposition.

The four-day session will attempt to set the agenda for further trade liberalisation amid strong disagreements between the major trading blocs.

Trade is the ally of working people, not their enemy
Mike Moore
Critics argue that free trade harms the environment, widens the gap between rich and poor, and undermines trade union standards.

Later in the week President Clinton will be flying to Seattle to try and address the protests head on, arguing the case for free trade and pointing out that globalisation benefits workers in both rich and poor countries.

He said on Tuesday that some way had to be found in future for the WTO to better reflect the concerns of those interest groups who are currently protesting against it.

Trade agenda to be agreed

The Seattle meeting is due to decide the agenda for a series of negotiations which are expected to take three years to complete.

The aim is to extend the benefits of free trade to new industries and more countries, while cementing economic ties.

Trade talk targets
Expand tariff cuts to agriculture and services
Set agenda for other areas of trade liberalisation
Discuss labour rights
Set standards for 'fair' trading
But it is not expected to be an easy task. The most recent round of talks lasted seven years.

This time non-governmental pressure groups are determined to have their voice heard. They range from trade unions to environmental campaigners, and hope to influence the outcome of the first new round of trade talks to take place since the end of the Cold War.

They will aided in their task by the growing protectionist pressures in many developed countries, especially the USA, which has a limited trade agenda this time.

The debate will be mirrored inside the negotiating chambers in Seattle, where representatives of the developed and the developing world are expected to quarrel over the merits of free trade, the scope of the trade talks, and the pace of trade liberalisation.

WTO splits

WTO's Four Aims
Expanding trade concessions to all members
Establishing freer global trade
Making trade fairer by establishing rules
Making trade more competitive by removing subsidies
The deep splits within the organisation became apparent earlier this year when the 134 members of the WTO were deadlocked over who should head the organisation.

If that was not bad enough, the splits appear to be getting just as serious within the ranks of those who undoubtedly support free trade.

There has been a series of bitter trade disputes between the European Union and the US over beef, bananas and the export of genetically modified food.

Tariff initiative for poor

WTO director general Mike Moore hopes that the EU, US, Japan and Canada will agree to cut their tariffs to zero on 99% of goods from the world's least developed nations.

He argues that this would make a significant difference to the least developed nations' trading position at little cost to the industrialised world, as these exports account for just 0.5% of world trade.

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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  Americas
In pictures: The WTO protests
30 Nov 99 |  Business
Technocrats versus Turtles
30 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Free trade will boost Third World - UK
23 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Free trade flashpoints
28 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Global hopes, global fears
24 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Trade blocs and bullies
23 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Free trade benefits all
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