WTO: Opening Day in Hong Kong – The Hard Work Begins

By December 13, 2005Trade

hongkonglogo_85pxls.gifHere is part two of Frank Vargo’s daily update–from the front lines–in Hong Kong for the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference:

The WTO Ministerial Conference opened today in Hong Kong, with nearly 150 trade ministers gathering in the great conference center at Hong Kong to kick things off. After the initial speeches urging compromise and stressing the importance of moving forward, the ministers dispersed and started their work.

Generally what is going on now is a series of “bilaterals” – trade ministers having one-on-one meetings with other trade ministers to sound out where they are on individual issues. Simultaneously, a number of “facilitator” picked by the Chairman of the conference, John Tsang, Hong Kong’s trade minister, are gathering groups of ministers to see if there might be common ground on which to begin constructing compromises.

Pakistan’s Trade Minister Kahn is the facilitator for the area in which the NAM is focusing – manufactured goods trade (called “non-agricultural market access” – NAMA). He urged ministers to avoid large meetings and posturing and to recognize time is short if a compromise is to be found that will permit the talks to move forward.

He said he will concentrate the NAMA process on small group meetings or consultations between himself and individual delegations, and said he wants to find a result that everyone can agree with. He told ministers: “It may not be the one you would have sought or desired but that is what compromises are made of. This is where the challenge lies and of course this challenge is yours to meet.”

Positions are still far apart on just about everything. But the U.S. and the European Union are increasingly saying, “look – this is a comprehensive round. It is not just about agriculture, and the advanced developing countries have to recognize as part of the deal they have to make large cuts in their barriers to manufactured goods and to services.” This is what the NAM and manufacturing associations in other countries are pressing for as a necessary outcome.

Outside, about 5,000 demonstrators protested, shouting such things as how unfair it would be for Asian countries to have to compete with cheap American rice. What struck me about that protest was the contrast with another demonstration in Hong Kong that took place about a week ago — when an estimated 100,000-200,000 Hong Kong residents marched to demand free elections and the right to vote. Among them was one very significant demonstrator – a brave woman named Anson Chan.

I had the great privilege of introducing Anson Chan at a dinner in her honor last night, an effervescent and courageous woman. She worked her way up the Hong Kong Civil Service and in 1993 became the head of Hong Kong’s 190,000-strong civil service. She built an honest system that is one of the reasons Hong Kong thrives today. She became one of Hong Kong’s most influential leaders. She is beloved by the people of Hong Kong.

And on December 4th, she quietly joined the first protest march in her life. Her purple dress stood out among a sea of black clothing, making a statement as elegant as she is. She didn’t make a fuss – she was just there. But the gentle click of her high-heeled shoes on the pavement was a sound heard ’round the world.

We all have to keep our eyes on what is important in life – just like Anson Chan.

More tomorrow.

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  • EUGENE WEISE says:

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