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Greenpeace: WTO Update

Greenpeace Campaign Update

The Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior is anchored near the World Trade Organisation meeting in Doha, Qatar. Here is the first update from the meeting.

***

Friday, 9 November 2001

First of a series of daily updates from Jo Dufay in Doha, Qatar, on the World Trade Organisation meeting.

Highlights: Day One

· WTO meeting officially opens
· US, EU pressure developing nations on 'New Round'
· Canada chairing key committee on environment = bad news
· 'Deep differences remain' says Mike Moore
· NGOs protest at opening session
· 'Radio No New Round' starts web and pirate FM broadcast from Rainbow Warrior, Doha Harbour

'We have learned lessons in Seattle' said WTO Director General Mike Moore at the opening session of the 4th Ministerial conference, in Doha Qatar, last night. 'Some of our critics are correct' he added. What lessons, precisely, were learned, remains to be seen.

Among a flurry of security, NGO representatives made their protest over the absence of civil society voices within the WTO. Holding signs that said 'No voice in the WTO', people from about thirty public interest groups stood at the beginning of the opening session. They were quickly surrounded by a mix of white-robed and grey-suited security people. The protest ended peacefully. Although the Qatari hosts of this meeting have been courteous, the message from the WTO is clear -- there is a narrow tolerance for protest.

The opening ceremonies marked the end of a day of tension, where nothing happened on the surface but tensions and suspicion ran deep. One of the lessons learned from Seattle is that developed countries and industries need ed to be better organised, and they are. Recently, the US invited trade ministers from African countries to Washington, DC where they were wined and dined and told that the US was ready to consider ways level the econom ic playing field to help their exports. However there was also pressure for the African countries to drop some of their WTO objections.

Corporate interests, too, are better organised. There are at least as many industry-side 'NGOs' here as public interest NGOs, and most are moving smoothly behind the scenes to persuade delegations that trade liberalisati on is the way forward, and all other concerns are secondary.

Six working groups have been formed to try to resolve some of the controversial areas facing this meeting. They will cover things like drug patents, agriculture and investment. One of the committees will deal with the e nvironment. The core issue is: which gets protected first - trade or the environment? Disappointingly, this committee is chaired by Canada - a country with an extremist position on favouring trade over the environment. The Canadian delegation is 40 strong, not one official from the environment ministry.

The Greenpeace flagship 'Rainbow Warrior' has been allowed to moor in Doha Harbour. From the deck you can see the modern white pyramid that is the Sheraton Hotel, primary site of the WTO conference. Although armed patro l boats cruise by the ship at regular intervals, from the ship the city is visible only as sugar-cube architecture and modern sky-rises.

Across the water you don't see the military security zone that has clamped down on large areas of the city. Many roads are closed, and a security cordon with several layers of defence has been thrown around the Sheraton. The military consists of mercenary soldiers in camouflage fatigues - interestingly for a desert state these are in blue tones, rather than khaki or green! Transportation is very limited, and moving between the ship a nd any of several conference sites is time consuming and difficult.

Despite the security situation, the atmosphere is not one of fear except when the US delegation sweeps by, walking through the Sheraton huddled together, with a phalanx of security guards surrounding them.

The narrow tolerance for protest here has caused many comments. Without a doubt, the Qatari cultural reality works to the advantage of those who would like to meet without having to deal with the concerns of civil society . However, the lack of transparency and inclusivity by the WTO goes far beyond the right to protest. There is simply no place for our voice in the meetings, and we have to claw around the edges to find a place there. Much of our work is in acting as a conduit for information, between and among delegations, and as 'translators' to explain the real meaning and implications of events and texts. .

Just after 11AM Saturday morning No New Round Radio began its FM radio transmissions (89.6 FM) and web broadcasts from, onboard the Rainbow Warrior in Doha harbour. You can find it on (www.greenpeace.org/politics/wto/Doha/index.html) or (www.indymedia.org). The FM signal is loud and clear. Local and international coverage of the Rainbow Warrior has been fantastic.

In Seattle, protests on the streets highlighted differences within the meeting. Here, street protests are not possible but as Mike Moore said yesterday 'deep differences remain'.


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