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The Battle Of Seattle - 50,000 Protestors at WTO

Protestors at the World Trade Organisation summit starting in Seattle tomorrow have labelled their actions "The Battle Of Seattle." John Howard reports.

Around 50,000 demonstrators are organising protests at the four-day WTO ministerial negotiations tomorrow.

Trade ministers from 135 countries will be greeted with banners, marches, demonstrators lying in the streets, locking themselves together, and street theatre against what they say is WTO's sweeping powers to enforce international trade agreements.

Roughly 300 representatives of trade unions from more than 100 countries also attended a conference organised by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

ICFTU general secretary Bill Jordan told the conference that the WTO must address labour concerns if it expects to get public support.

"In the trade ministers fail to act they could set in train the beginning of the end of WTO," Jordan said to applause.

Conference delegates applauded politely when the WTO's general director, Mike Moore, defended global free trade and warned against what he called a "false debate" between working people and the WTO.

"Trade is the ally of the working people, not their enemy," Moore said. "As living standards improve, so too does education, health, the environment and labour standards," he said.

However, a demonstrator, Dan Taylor a 21-year-old organiser said, " The WTO as it is now is really unreformable, it needs to be torn down. We need to look at our trade relationships with other countries and rethink the way it's been set up."

The WTO primarily benefits big business instead of the general public said, Jeremy Madsen, a spokesman for the Citizen's Trade Campaign. "It's not free trade, it's corporate-managed trade that benefits corporations," he said.

"The goal is to pressure governments not to be against the interests of their publics," he said.

Madsen attacked director-general Mike Moore's insistence that the body is trade-only and neutral as "patently ridiculous" because its effects stretch into a wide range of social and political issues.

Madsen said if WTO rules were in effect at the time, "Nelson Mandela would still be in jail."

The WTO's restrictions on non-tariff trade barriers effectively handcuff countries from encouraging environmental protection by, say, boycotting rainforest timber or tuna harvesting using dolphin slaughtering methods, activists say.

A giant papier-mache sculpture of a WTO Godzilla stomping a hole in a flame-spouting globe draws passers-by to the window of the campaign's headquarters. It is crushing a dolphin in one paw.

Meanwhile a Japanese company has applied for a patent No. 06090838 on curry which, under WTO rules from next year, would protect the patent as intellectual property rights. Billions of dollars could be earned from royalities every time a curry is eaten in Japan. Already a Texas company, RiceTec, has patented a variety of Basmato rice, which it claims to have developed.

India is expected to challenge the patent on Basmati rice and calls the Japanese curry patent application "a matter of concern."

ends


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