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24 Oct, 2005

Anti-Globalisation Protestors Prepare To Do Battle in Hong Kong

The battle-lines have been drawn for what promises to be a fiery 6 th Ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong in mid-December.

Nearly 40 anti-globalisation protest movements, many of which will be present in Hong Kong, last week issued a statement calling on governments of developing countries not to sign the deal, and to be especially wary of a key part that will affect travel by millions of migrant workers and expatriate staff.

The statement said that a lopsided agreement “will only benefit skilled, white collar professionals and lead to a brain drain from developing to industrialized countries, while semi and unskilled workers will be blocked from movement across borders as before.”

Migrant workers comprise a significant percentage of air-traffic movements from countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. In the reverse direction, developed countries want developing countries to relax visas and work permit regulations that will facilitate relocation of expatriate staff.

Both forms of movement are of considerable financial interest to the airlines.

The entire issue is linked to a fundamental principle of globalised economic liberalisation which is that free trade of products, money and services can yield only partial benefits without the free movement of peoples.

The WTO talks have for years focused on facilitating the free movement of agricultural products and manufactured products, but are now in the critical field of services, which includes travel & tourism, plus other service sectors like banking, telecommunications, health, insurance, etc.

As the entire package is now on the negotiating table, the protestors are warning that developing country negotiators will make concessions in the services sectors in exchange for developed countries allowing in more exports of agricultural and manufactured products from the developing countries.

People movement s are covered by a section of the WTO’s Generalised Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) classified in legal jargon as Mode 4.

But the statement issued by the anti-globalisation movements warned: “Developing country governments must not accept Mode 4 concessions as an incentive to open up their domestic services sectors to further liberalization, or to provide market access in agriculture or non-agricultural market access.”

It said that “many developing countries are using this as a bargaining chip to allow businesses from developed countries access into their own services markets.

However, any gains from Mode 4 will only benefit skilled, white collar professionals and lead to a brain drain from developing to industrialized countries, while semi and unskilled workers will be blocked from movement across borders as before.”

The statement said that with only two months to go before the Hong Kong conference, “pressure is mounting among WTO delegates to come up with an agreement to save the WTO from the humiliation of yet another round of failed talks.

Although current negotiations appear deadlocked in all the main negotiating areas …..there are serious possibilities that through clever maneuvering and opportunistic deal making, the trade majors (particularly the US and the EU) with help from some developing countries (particularly India and Brazil) will attempt to push through a trade deal that will provide big gains to national and transnational corporations and highly skilled professionals from developed and developing countries, but which will prove disastrous to the majority of the peoples and communities of the world, especially farmers, fisher-folk, workers, migrants and other vulnerable groups.

Negotiations are continuing in their usual non-transparent and top down manner, with countries forging new temporary alliances to suit their negotiating interests.”

It added, “It is now up to us — social movements, mass organizations and other civil society organizations — to take a firm stand against the ongoing negotiations and ensure that our food, agriculture, health, jobs, natural resources, environment, services, industries and sovereignty are not bargained away for the profits of a handful of corporations and elite professionals.”

As of last week, the statement was signed by just under 40 non-governmental organizations and civil society movements worldwide, but more were signing up as the draft gained wider circulation.

One key element of this ‘opening up’ process will enable foreign guides to work in many parts of Asia, a privilege that may not be reciprocal. The matter was discussed by the 14th meeting of the ASEAN task force on tourism manpower development in Yogyakarta last month.

Noted the meetings report, “There is a concern on liberalizing the services of tourist guides as the national regulations of most (ASEAN) Member Countries impose limitation on employment of foreign tourist guides.

Under certain circumstances such as during peak periods of tourist activities, foreign tourist guides may be allowed to provide such services. In this regard, the Task Force on Tourism Manpower was requested to study ways to further enhance the capacity building of local tourist guides in terms of their expertise and language skills.”

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