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December 1, 1999
INDIA & THE WTO
WTO chief calls protestors anti-poor
Robert Evans in Seattle
World Trade Organisation chief Mike Moore, his voice brimming with emotion, said yesterday that protestors demanding the body be destroyed were working against the poor people and countries they say they want to protect.
But Moore, a 50-year-old one-time labour union organiser, insisted that the WTO's ministerial conference this week ''will be a success'' despite a delayed start caused by motley demonstrations on Seattle streets. ''To those who argue that we should stop our work, I say: tell that to the poor, to the marginalised around the world who are looking to us to help them,'' the former New Zealand prime minister told a news conference.
Demonstrators, many of them young people who in discussions with reporters displayed little or no idea of how the 135-member WTO works or what its role in administering globally-agreed trade rules is, blocked access to key sites for the meeting.
Proclaiming themselves the ''real representatives of the people of Seattle, America and the world,'' many chanted ''death to the WTO,'' saying the body was in the hands of ''corporate bloodsuckers'' and ''imperialist exploiters.''
Moore, only three months in his post, was forced to call off the gathering's opening ceremony in a city centre theatre as protestors linked hands to stop delegates from getting through. But the WTO chief, who once worked among deprived communities in his home country before rising up the political ladder, made clear he was not disheartened, and hit back at the critics.
''This is a sad day,'' he told reporters just before opening the first working session of the conference which is expected to agree to launch a new round of negotiations over the next three years to pull down more barriers to world trade.
''I'll accept a lot of criticism. I know our organisation is not perfect,'' he declared. ''But what I will not accept is that our organisation is not democratic.''
Moore said the vast majority of the ministers attending the meeting were from countries with elected governments, and were therefore the genuinely democratic representatives of their people. ''Look at the minister from India. His government has to get 300 million votes....I ask people here to respect the rights of the people in other countries, in India, in Fiji and in South Africa, to name only a few,'' Moore declared.
Among the members of the WTO, nearly three quarters are developing countries, including 29 of the world's poorest states, and another 30 are bidding to come in. They see the body as offering a means of defending themselves against trade pressures from big powers -- like the United States.
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