MONTREAL -- Chanting anti-WTO protesters surged onto downtown Montreal streets Tuesday, claiming victory over globalization forces, even though their own numbers were down sharply due to a wave of arrests the day before.
Riot police rounded up more than 200 people after an early-morning demonstration Monday against an informal meeting here of ministers from 25 of the 146 member-states of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
A group of protesters smashed windows of a Gap clothing store and a Burger King fast-food restaurant in the city center. Ten police were injured slightly in the scuffle.
A riot policeman stands before arrested demonstrators during anti-World Trade Organization protests in Montreal. A total of 238 people were arrested on the heels of a demonstration against the WTO. (AFP/Phil Carpenter)
A spokesperson for the activists said the Canadian government spent millions of dollars and deployed thousands of riot police to protect the 25 trade ministers, who are meeting this week for three days of informal talks ahead of the full WTO ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.
”We're a crowd of 600 people with very strong and dissident political beliefs. If they say that they're threatened it means that there's something we're saying that is really impacting them, because there is absolutely no way that we have--or even would want--the show of force that they do,” said Tamara Herman, of the Popular Mobilization Against the WTO.
The activists say the WTO perpetuates a global trade system that further enriches the wealthy and impoverishes the poor.
But Canada's international trade minister Pierre Pettigrew told journalists Monday that protesters ”lost a lot of credibility” by using violence. Disrupting WTO negotiations would only hurt the poor, such as African farmers and people with AIDS, he said.
Herman disagreed. ”I'm in contact with a lot of the popular movements (in Africa) and all of them are opposed to the WTO... so I think the education message has got out.”
Most of the protesters arrested Monday were to appear in court Tuesday.
Pettigrew said that the success of this week's meeting would be judged by the outcome of the Cancun gathering. Topping the agenda there will be agricultural subsidies that rich nations like the United States and European Union members provide to their farmers.
Developing nations and their supporters say the WTO forced open the markets of the world's poorest nations and now refuses to do the same to the richest countries.
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi urged ministers at the Montreal meeting to be more flexible in their positions on trade issues.
”Failure (of the trade talks) is not an option,” Supachai told a news conference Monday.
”If we fail, the signals beyond 2005 to the global community would be the failure of the multilateral system at a time when we need the multilateral system to provide us with more market access.”
Mark Fried, advocacy co-ordinator for Oxfam Canada, said developing countries have threatened to abandon the ongoing talks because the world's most powerful nations will not drop their trade barriers.
”Everyone is waiting for the United States and European Union to move,” Fried told the Globe and Mail newspaper after a meeting between Pettigrew and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
”They don't want to move because the current system benefits them,” said Fried.
”This is tragic because thousands, I would say millions, of poor farmers across the world are losing their livelihoods today under this regime and things have to change,” he said, adding that access to medicine is another key issue that has yet to be resolved.
Washington is being lobbied to relent and sign a deal on low-cost medicines for developing countries.
Last December, under pressure from the brand-name drug companies, the United States walked away from a draft WTO deal that would have ensured poor countries' access to inexpensive copies of patented drugs in order to treat a host of diseases that threaten their populations.
EU Agricultural Commissioner Franz Fischler this week reiterated his bloc's commitment to further liberalize agricultural trade, ”to give the poorest countries of the world a better deal”.
Pettigrew said he is encouraged by the EU pronouncements, and hopeful that the United States--which increased aid for some agricultural sectors as recently as last year--also will move toward substantial reductions in subsidies for domestic production.
”I expect both the EU and Americans will show the leadership we expect from them,” Pettigrew said.
Copyright 2003 Inter Press Service