Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All set and ready to rumble in Dec 2005

All Fired up for WTO meeting in December

The battle lines have been drawn for what promises to be a fiery sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) 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 the issue that will affect the travelign of 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 industrialised countries, while semi and unskilled workers will be blocked from movement across borders as before".

Migrant workers give rise to a significant percentage of air-traffic movements from countries such as 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 argues that free trade of products, money and services can yield only partial benefits without the free movement of people.

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 and tourism, plus other service sectors like banking, telecommunications and health.

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 movements 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 that "Developing country governments must not accept Mode 4 concessions as an incentive to open up their domestic services sectors to further liberalisation, 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 industrialised 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 United States and the European Union) 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, fishermen, workers, migrants and other vulnerable groups."

It said negotiations were continuing "in their usual non-transparent and top-down manner", with countries forging temporary alliances to suit their interests.

"It is now up to us, social movements, mass organisations and other civil society organisations, 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."

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 Asean task force on tourism manpower development in Yogyakarta last month.

The report noted concern about liberalising the tourist guide sector as most Asean member countries impose limitations on employment of foreign tourist guides.

"Under certain circumstances such as in peak tourism periods, foreign tourist guides may be allowed to provide such services. In this regard, the task force on tourism manpower was asked to study ways to further enhance the capacity building of local tourist guides in terms of their expertise and language skills."


See as the poorer countries get poorer, the abled workers leave home to be exploited.

Fight poverty, we must!

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