Poor nations seek place at world trade table; protesters march
By Dirk Beveridge, AP Business Writer
12 February 2000 Poor nations left behind by rapid economic globalization clamored Saturday for a bigger share of the wealth at the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development in Bangkok, as demonstrators seeking more radical changes squared off with riot police.
U.N. Secretary–General Kofi Annan called for a "Global New Deal," with rich nations extending a helping hand to poor countries.
"Can we not attempt on a global level what any successful industrialized country does to help its most disadvantaged and underdeveloped regions to catch up?" Annan asked delegates.
The developing nations need debt relief and open markets for their products, and wealthy nations should help countries that encourage investment and guarantee their people will share in the benefits, Annan said at the opening of the conference.
Activists who view globalization as harmful to ordinary people and the environment while benefiting corporations sought to use the UNCTAD meeting as a forum for their views.
Barely two months after the collapse of World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, where street protests turned violent and hindered debate by the world's trade ministers, many had been viewing the Bangkok summit as Seattle, Part II.
About 1,000 protesters – including foreign activists who had been to Seattle, Bangkok slum dwellers and landless Thai farmers – marched toward the convention center where about 190 national delegations gathered.
They were initially stopped by barricades manned by police. There was a shoving match, but no serious trouble broke out. The demonstrators sat at a busy intersection, blocking traffic, and a few score were eventually let through.
As the conference formally opened inside with a colorful spectacle of Thai dancers, the protesters stood outside with banners telling the International Monetary Fund, the WTO and other organizations to "go to hell."
"I don't think UNCTAD is relevant to the majority of Thai people," said a laid–off factory worker who gave his name as Somsak. "What are we going to get from high technology?"
The UNCTAD meeting, held every four years, reflects a feeling among Third World leaders that globalization led by high technology and increased power by multinational corporations is inevitable. But they are calling for the benefits to be spread more equally.
"The downsides of globalization are indeed painful," Philippine President Joseph Estrada said. "But taking the bigger pills against its ills is superior to living inside a sterile bubble."
Although UNCTAD is largely a forum for developing nations, organizers have touted this session as a chance to rebuild confidence in global trade after the WTO failed to launch a new round of talks on breaking down barriers to international commerce.
Developing nations said they were being left out of the process and they are hoping that the UNCTAD session will let them state their case for more input into trade rules that will affect billions of people.
Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was expected to announce that his country is willing to completely open its doors to most goods from the world's poorest countries, provided that other major nations follow suit.
European nations have reacted positively to the proposal to slash quotas and duties on goods from least developed countries, but the United States has been less warm to the idea, Japanese officials said.
UNCTAD is meeting in the capital where Asia's economic crisis began July 2, 1997, with the devaluation of Thailand's currency, disclosing major cracks in the developing world's efforts to spurt ahead with fast–paced growth.
Thailand announced this week it would be leaving a rescue program imposed in 1997 by the IMF, a deeply symbolic statement that Asia is bouncing back. Average growth in the region is expected at 4 percent this year.
Many delegates here are concerned that the forces globalizing the world economy, such as the rapid development of high–tech industries, are not spreading quickly enough to poor nations.