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Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 00:04 GMT
Protests against trade talks
A Swiss farmer sounds off in Geneva A Swiss farmer sounds off in Geneva

Thousands of people have taken part in rallies in Paris and other French cities to protest against the World Trade Organisation and further moves towards a global economy.

The battle for free trade
There have been similar demonstrations in Switzerland involving leftists, ecologists and farmers.

The rallies were taking place three days before an important ministerial meeting of the WTO in the American city of Seattle.

In Paris, demonstrators called on the WTO to put people before profits at its meeting, which will focus on trade liberalisation.

Defending the poor

Brandishing banners that said "The world is not for sale," marchers headed for the site of the Bastille.

As the march began, the newspaper Le Monde appeared on newsstands with a front-page article by WTO chief Mike Moore saying that the organisation would defend the interests of poor countries.

The poster reads "Disarm WTO"
"I am launching a call to ministers to announce in Seattle their intention of suppressing all the obstacles to imports from the least developed countries," he wrote.

But protesters fear that the WTO will force France to import genetically modified food, and that major food exporters will force cuts in farmers' subsidies.

"What worries me, because I'm French, is that the WTO could say we can only have sterilised milk, then what will happen to French cheese?," said Johann Chemin, a 28-year-old computer programmer.

French Finance Minister Christian Sautter has said that, while Europe will push for a new round of trade liberalisation talks at the Seattle meeting, it will not go to any lengths.

"We don't want to demonise money, but it must be used to promote humanity's happiness."
Communist demonstrator
In an interview with the newspaper Journal de Dimanche, Mr Sautter - who will head France's delegation at the talks - said Europe planned to battle against unilateralism and support poor countries.

"Europe has stated very clearly how it sees the next round of talks. Because that's what is at stake in Seattle: to set the agenda," he said.

Apple tree

In Geneva, about 3,000 people joined a demonstration in front of the WTO headquarters.

Farmers led the protest outside WTO headquarters Farmers led the protest outside WTO headquarters
The protesters were kept away from the entrance of the building, but a group of farmers was allowed to plant an apple tree in the WTO's garden.

The demonstrators were demanding that ethnic, cultural, social and environmental aspects should be taken into account in the negotiations.

They also wanted the talks to be devoted to assessing the first five years of the WTO's existence.

Disagreements on agenda

WTO representatives this week failed to agree a draft agenda for the meeting after deep differences emerged between member countries over what topics should and should not be covered.

The EU wants a comprehensive round of trade negotiations, including agriculture, services, tariffs on industrial goods, environmental issues, investment and competition rules.

But it has met heavy resistance from other WTO members.

The Australian-led Cairns group of major food exporters want the new talks to focus on EU farm subsidies.

Developing countries, for their part, are resisting attempts by the EU and the United States to put minimum labour standards on the agenda.

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See also:
23 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
WTO talks falter
15 Nov 99 |  The Economy
WTO hails China deal
03 May 99 |  The Economy
WTO: Policing world trade
19 May 99 |  The Economy
World trade wars
26 Nov 99 |  UK
Online activists plan global protest

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