Dateline: Bali | A Pinoy Weekly newsblog on WTO Bali MC9

December 2, 2013

dateline bali iconPinoy Weekly believes economic and trade issues need to be reported from the perspective of ordinary people and marginalized sectors. Because of this, PW is now in Bali, Indonesia to cover the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 3 to 6, 2013. This page will serve as our news blog, covering both the ministerial conference in the plush and heavily militarized Nusa Dua Convention Center as well as the parallel activities designed as counterpoint to the meeting, namely the People’s Global Camp, sponsored by the Indonesian People’s Alliance (IPA) in Ngurah Rai Sports Center in Denpasar, Bali. WTO is the international organization that oversees trade negotiations between governments and the multilateral trade system. But many analysts have been critical of the organization — many are even calling for its junking — for its undemocratic processes dominated by developed countries, primarily the United States, which through various means influence the negotiations for its own benefit and at the expense of the impoverished countries.

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7 December 2013

Bandung Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955: prefiguring hope for the future of the community of nations, despite WTO Bali. (Photo from chinaculture.org)

Bandung Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955: prefiguring hope for the future of the community of nations, despite WTO Bali. (Photo from chinaculture.org)

2PM: A rebirth of the World Trade Organization?

This is, at least, what folks in WTO have been touting since all 159 member-countries, including “a few bad apples” (our term) like India, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, expressed support for the Bali Package this morning.

Following intense negotiations brokered by WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, Cuba finally caved — and approved of a package that this time contained a clause on inclusivity of all trading countries in trade facilitation (including Cuba, who is under a 51-year trade embargo by the United States — causing the unnecessary suffering of countless Cubans for generations). It was a compromise, as one imagines Cuba would have wanted a more categorical promise of lifting the harsh embargo (that had been condemned by the UN bodies and many countries, by the way). Nevertheless, one surmises that other factors must have come into play in Cuba and the ALBA countries’ decision — like the affect their refusal of the Bali Package would have on their relationship with other trading partners.

The problem, of course, is that based on many studies and progressive analyses the TF clause in Bali would only facilitate trading of countries who already are at an advantage to begin with — the developed countries, and especially the United States. TF does nothing to facilitate the development of national industries that would provide food security and basic needs of any given developing country.

In the mean time, WTO is “reborn”. Neo-liberal multi-lateralism is purportedly given a new lease in life. One hopes that this development (or, to put it another way, a lack thereof) conclusively proves the futility in reforming creatures of imperialism like the WTO, and that it is time, no it is long overdue, to fight for an alternative system of trade and economic cooperation among nations that is based on human rights, national sovereignty and mutual respect and cooperation.

Let us end this blog with a quote. It forms part of a speech of another Indian minister. This time, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He spoke these words at the closing of an African-Asian conference that was held in a place not far from Bali, in Java, Indonesia. It was in Bandung, and it happened almost 60 years ago. It has been called the Bandung Conference, and it produced one of the rare documents of human history that prefigured a more equitable and prosperous community of nations. In Bandung  on April 1955, Nehru said:

Nehru in Bandung, April 1955. (awcungeneva.com)

Nehru in Bandung, April 1955. (awcungeneva.com)

We are not `yes-men’, I hope, sitting here saying `yes’ just to this country or that, saying `yes’ even to each other. I hope we are not. We are great countries in the world who rather like having freedom, if I may say so, without dictation. Well, if there is anything that Asia wants to tell them it is this: No dictation there is going to be in the future; no `yes-men’ in Asia, I hope, or in Africa. We have had enough of that in the past. We value friendship of the great countries and if I am to play my part, I should like to say that we sit with the great countries of the world as brothers, be it in Europe or America. It is not in any spirit of hatred or dislike or aggressiveness with each other in regard to Europe or America, certainly not. We send our greetings to Europe and America, I hope, from all of us here, and we want to be friends with them, and to cooperate with them. But we shall cooperate only as friends, as equals. There is no friendship when nations are unequal, when one nation has to obey another, and when one dominates over another. That is why we raise our voices against the domination of colonialism from which many of us have suffered so long, and that is why we have to be very careful that any other form of domination does not come in our way.

KR Guda

5 AM:  It had already been announced to the press: At 3 AM, there will be a heads of delegation session that would virtually put a stamp, by consensus of the 159 members of the World Trade Organization, on the latest draft of the Bali Package containing, among others, trade facilitation (essentially, agreement to allow trading countries easier access to markets and/or raw materials) and food security.

Cuban head of delegation to the WTO 9th Ministerial Conference

Cuban head of delegation to the WTO 9th Ministerial Conference

But they spoke too soon. A while after that, it was announced that the ceremony had been moved to 4:30 AM, due to delays in ironing out the wording of the section on food security. (India, which had been its most vocal advocate, reportedly softened its stance and approved WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo’s proposed text that promises a “permanent solution” to increase agriculture subsidy, possibly after four years.)

THEN, a briefing. WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell announces: No deal in Bali, as of now.

Cuba, which had been pushing for an inclusion of a section about the longstanding US trade embargo on it, backs out of the deal. This after the text on the removal of the trade embargo mysteriously disappeared from the latest draft agreement. Now standing with him against the Bali Package are the ALBA countries: Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Rockwell said the WTO will continue consultations, even as some country delegates had already left. “We’re keeping the rooms!” Rockwell says, indicating their intention to continue the talks in an effort to salvage the Bali Package.

As we say in Manila: Pasabog (bombshell).

KR Guda

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6 December 2013

3:33PM There are rumors circulating among media that India has struck up an agreement with the United States, presumably regarding the agriculture proposal in the Bali Package. Other countries, in the mean time, have yet to sign on. Again, this is a rumor, and it is possible that there are attempts at disinformation by vested interests during this crucial time. Press people are still waiting the final word. A closing session that was set at 3PM appears to have been put off.

In the mean time, allow us to share this statement from one of the country delegates here in WTO Bali:

“A new tyranny is thus born,invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own  laws and rules. An even worse development is that such policies are sometimes locked in through trade rules negotiated at the WTO or in bilateral or regional FTAs. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this, we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

This statement does not come as a surprise now. It is because it comes from the Vatican representative.

The Indian minister of commerce and industry, Anand Sharma, during a press conference on Dec. 5. (WTO/Antara)

The Indian minister of commerce and industry, Anand Sharma, during a press conference on Dec. 5. (WTO/Antara)

1PM: Last day (?) of the negotiations. The mood is sombre, people a little uneasy. The WTO spokesman, Keith Rockwell, said that the director-general is working on a compromise (of a compromise) deal that would save the talks. An extension in the negotiations is possible. The protests are getting more frequent — and closer — and this puts the police, the security here at the convention center, further uneasy. Hearing the Indian minister, Anand Sharma, yesterday, one senses that a deal at this point would be far-fetched. Despite the insinuations, the brickbats, even from the western media, Sharma and the Indian delegation stood firm on the proposal to allow governments the policy space (supposedly) to assist their countries’ farmers.  Whatever the motivation (they say political, because Indian elections is coming up next year, and the ruling party wanted to project a nationalist image to voters), India has stood its ground against the bullying and other pressure tactics of the US and other developed, (er, imperialist?) countries.

Meanwhile, at a rally held at the gate of Nusa Dua Convention Center, some 50 peasant activists from various South and Southeast Asia identified with the 15-million strong Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), International Fisherfolk and Fishworkers Coalition (IFWC) and the Indonesian People’s Alliance (IPA) said Azevedo is a triple platinum liar, a rabid apologist of WTO and a salesman of neo-liberal globalization. The peasants were joined by members of youth and workers’ organizations. The protest, as well as that of yesterday with women activists, happened despite the increased security, the public declaration by the Indonesian government that they will be disallowing protests in Nusa Dua.

Indonesian police push back peasant, youth and worker activists protesting against WTO in Nusa Dua, Bali. (Boy Bagwis)

Indonesian police push back peasant, youth and worker activists protesting against WTO in Nusa Dua, Bali. (Boy Bagwis)

KR Guda / Boy Bagwis
 
 For more photos of the protest action, visit our Facebook page. For more updates,  follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook
 
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5 December 2013

Women solidarity action against the WTO. (Boy Bagwis)

Women solidarity action against the WTO. (Boy Bagwis)

With just a day left at the WTO 9th Ministerial Conference, women from the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere belonging to the International Women’s Alliance (IWA) staged a protest rally right at the doors of the World Trade Organization to cries of “NO Deal in Bali” and “Junk WTO”.

An hour earlier, India’s trade Minister, Anand Sharma, went on press conference to say that India will not budge from its stand on food security and did not buckle under US pressure.    With this a Bali trade deal is deemed unlikely.

Despite strict warnings on rallies by Indonesian security forces, the women sprung a surprise and gathered at the gate of the WTO MC9 meeting.  They came straight from the People’s Global Camp (PGC) at GOR Ngurah Rai Sports Center where a four-day protest activity against WTO was being held. Among the protesters were members of GABRIELA, including Gabriela Partylist Representative Emmie de Jesus.

The protest was followed by a snake rally inside the WTO building staged by women  participants of PGC, mostly indigenous women,  and belonging to the ILPS (International League of People’s Struggle).

IWA said that standing up against big bullies in WTO should be every poor nation’s stance to safeguard one’s sovereignty.  It deemed that all talks about “trade facilitation,” strengthening special and differential treatments, and a “peace cause” mean nothing at all to women who face worsening situations today.  All of these offer no significant shelter or relief for hunger and impoverishment.

“We have had enough of this; there should not even be any meetings at this point. These ministers should just go home.” says IWA Chair Liza Maza. Prior to this, pre-MC talks already broke down when India strongly demanded for protection of its farmers and those of other poor nations.

The WTO MC 9 meeting is bound to fail even as the US tries to resurrect and conclude the Doha Development Agenda, said Gabriela Representative de Jesus.  She said that resistance has been growing outside and inside the WTO especially against the bullying of the US of developing and least developed nations who refuse to toe the US line particularly on the issue of subsidies on food and agriculture.

Yanni Fernan

 For more photos of the women solidarity action, visit our Facebook page. For more updates,  follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook

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4 December 2013

Agriculture Undersec. Romeo Recide (Photo from http://www.bas.gov.ph/)

Agriculture Undersec. Romeo Recide (Photo from http://www.bas.gov.ph/)

Behind closed doors, country delegates were busy negotiating, looking to work on a deal here in Bali that WTO believes would help in regaining credibility for the neo-liberal, multilateral trade system. Outside, news was rife that the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in an apparent act of desperation, was set to call the Indian Prime Minister, to help convince the latter to accept bits of the Bali Package, particularly the one on trade facilitation — the very part of the package that would purportedly benefit multinational corporations from developed countries like the US. The Indonesian President’s spokesman confirmed such plan, but did not provide details.

Meanwhile, Filipinos from Focus on the Global South, Alliance of Progressive Labor and other allied groups, sought a dialogue with the Philippine delegation, and Pinoy Weekly was invited to observe. They were met with Agriculture Undersecretary Romeo Recide and his colleagues, who explained the Philippine government’s position on the negotiations on agriculture subsidies. Essentially, the government folks said that they were in favor of the Peace Clause (that is, the US proposal that gives a 4-year moratorium on countries violating the 10% limit on agriculture subsidies). It was a compromise, they said, as the Philippines were one of the stalwarts of the G33 proposal on agriculture that essentially rewrites the original Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) that entered into force with the establishment of the WTO — the new proposal allows for more subsidies for agriculture, especially for subsistence farming.

It was a compromise, indeed. But the problem, as Ibon International’s Paul Quintos noted, was that by saying it agrees on trade facilitation while negotiating for a better deal on agriculture, the Philippines no longer has any leverage on the latter. In other words, by its own admission, it has weakened its position on negotiating for the right to subsidize agriculture — even one as compromised as the G33 proposal.

“Maybe we must look at this as a challenge to step up (in the free market competition),” says one Philippine government delegate. To which, of course, one can answer that it is one thing for us to step up to challenges of the future and another to face these challenges utterly unprepared, ill-equipped and left to fend for ourselves.

KR Guda

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REPORT FROM PEOPLE’S GLOBAL CAMP | Militant calls mark opening plenary of People’s Global Camp

Opening plenary of the People's Global Camp (Boy Bagwis)

Opening plenary of the People’s Global Camp (Boy Bagwis)

Bubarkan WTO! Junk WTO!”

These slogans echoed inside Ngurah Rai Sports Center as the People’s Global Camp (PGC) opened its plenary session this morning, December 4, with around 500 participants.

Yesterday Dec 3, a march-rally of a thousand participants marked the first day of the PGC from the Puputan Park to the PGC venue. However about a hundred youths wanting to come to the rally from Banyuwangi district were prevented and violently dispersed by the police at Kalipuro sub-district before they could reach Puputan Park.  Nine were arrested, but were later released.,

International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) Chairperson Jose Maria Sison opened the session with a solidarity message highlighting peoples’ resistance. Two decades of neoliberal globalization have led the world to a state of fast-accelerating recurrent crisis with the broad masses of the people fighting back, according to Sison.

He challenged the PGC to further develop the capacity to hold globally coordinated action. He also called on all positive forces to expand and consolidate their mass base at the national and grassroots level.

International and local speakers discussed various issues related to WTO and the imperialist policy of neoliberal globalization.

Antonio Tujan Jr. of Ibon International contextualized the global neoliberal policy, its multiple crises and the renewed neoliberal offensive. “The Bali conference is a critical arena in the neoliberal offensive against enabling and empowering poor countries to shape their own agenda for sustainable development,” he said.

Tujan further stressed that “the hard truth is that the WTO is actively preventing the development of the economies of poor countries”. He added that the goal should be system change and sustainable development for all.

Our World Is Not for Sale (Owinfs) global network’s Deborah James reiterated the network’s demand against trade facilitation and WTO expansion. She called on countries to agree in Bali to remove WTO rules against food security.

Meanwhile, International Women’s Alliance’s Azra Sayeed criticized the United States for its imperialist aggressions over countries through its US military industrial complex. Approximately 400,000 US military personnel are forward-stationed everyday around the world, Sayeed said citing the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

Nur Hidayati of Walhi (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia) highlighted climate change, trade and commodification of nature in Indonesia. She raised concern over false solutions such as REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) or “green grabbing” which is similar to taking over peoples’ control over their lands in the name of conservation to save the climate.

“The domination and control of US imperialism through WTO has been shown to destroy the national economy, undermine the political sovereign, national culture and brought evil to Indonesia,” Ahmad SH, spokesperson of the Indonesian People’s Alliance, said in his speech.

He challenged the peoples of the world “to understand the rottennes and evil schemes of imperialism through WTO and various forums and institutional cooperation that made them.”

After the morning session,  the participants huddled into several tents to hold workshops, view photo exhibits, and staged cultural performances.

Yanni Fernan

 For more photos of the PGC plenary, visit our Facebook pageFor more updates,  follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook

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3 December 2013

Indon Pres. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right) WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo (center), and Indon Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan. (Antara Photo)

Indon Pres. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right) WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo (center), and Indon Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan. (Antara Photo)

If the fortress-like security within the convention center that is the venue of the 9th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was not enough, the Indonesian security personnel further beefed up its security. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was to speak at the WTO opening session, so security limited the number of people passing through the lobby near the plenary session hall. A special badge had to be secured (they only gave 150 badges for press people).

The opening session was uneventful in itself, with WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo and President Yudhoyono, as well as the trade minister and chair of MC9, Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, reiterating earlier statements that WTO is now in a “do or die” situation: the ministers had to approve the Bali Package (essentially, proposals on trade facilitation, agriculture, trade in services, information technology — but talks mostly centered on trade facilitation and agriculture or the G33 proposal) or WTO will lose all credibility as a major instrument for multilateral trade system.

The problem, as critics themselves have noted, was that the speeches were laced with threat: approve the package — that mostly benefits developed countries like the US and European Union — or you shall be the cause of the collapse of multilateral trade. India, in particular, had been the subject of thinly-veiled threats, as it has stood firm on the admittedly-flawed G33 proposal on agriculture (essentially, revising the Agreement on Agriculture to allow countries to subsidize subsistence farmers, purportedly to prevent massive poverty and hunger) despite pressure from the developed countries and the WTO secretariat.

Already, Indian representatives have declared that they will stand firm on the proposal.

But the machinations did not end there. When not threatening developing and least-developed countries, US and others entice the poor countries with proposals that supposedly make it easy for LDCs to develop their industries and trade with the rich countries. In particular, they proposed the Peace Clause, which allows India not to be sued for 4 years only while it insists on subsidizing its farmers. Obviously, the proposal is aimed at softening the stance of India, who now faces the possibility of sanctions for standing firm on its cotton subsidies.

The negotiations, of course, can go either way. But whatever the outcome in Bali, what is certain is that the developed countries led by the US will continue to pursue its imperialist interests (via bilateral or regional trade agreements, for example) at the expense of the vast majority of the peoples of the world — with or without the WTO.

(KR Guda)

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REPORT FROM PEOPLE’S GLOBAL CAMP | Philippine activists join People’s Global Camp vs. WTO

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano (center), with Indonesian People's Alliance spokesperson Ahamd SH, at the start of the cultural parade against WTO to commence the People's Global Camp. (Boy Bagwis)

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano (center), with Indonesian People’s Alliance spokesperson Ahamd SH, at the start of the cultural parade against WTO to commence the People’s Global Camp. (Boy Bagwis)

BALI, INDONESIA — On the opening date of the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia, international organizations today joined Indonesian groups in a kick-off cultural protest parade at the Puputan Park to mark their opposition against neoliberal policies of the WTO.

Representatives and delegates from various Philippine grassroots and people’s organizations, under the umbrella of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) , participated in the cultural protest parade.

The Philippine organizations include Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Health Alliance for Democracy, Anakbayan, Migrante International, League of Filipino Students, Gabriela, Salinlahi, COURAGE, Cordillera People’s Alliance, Piston. They were also joined by think-tank IBON International and the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS)-Philippines.

After the onslaught of supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Philippine people’s organizations said they find more reason to oppose and reject neoliberal policies of the WTO, especially the so-called “Bali package” and the “post-Bali agenda”, which are focused mainly on agriculture and trade liberalization and further deregulation of the global labor market.

Women activists of Gabriela joined the People's Global Camp in Denpasar, Bali. (Boy Bagwis)

Women activists of Gabriela joined the People’s Global Camp in Denpasar, Bali. (Boy Bagwis)

The Philippine activists hit the continuous subservience of the Aquino government to the imperial dictates of the WTO. According to them, this, coupled with the regime’s criminal incompetence in providing immediate relief and rehabilitation for Yolanda survivors,  will certainly result in the worsening of massive poverty, displacement and joblessness, violation of labor rights, and expropriation of land, natural and human resources in the Philippines.

“The impact of the disaster on the Philippine economy is very grave. It will become even graver with the renewed neoliberal offensive of the WTO on agriculture and trade. Already, hardest-hit areas of the supertyphoon are being targeted as staging grounds for increased foreign investments and control of the local economy.  This is made more glaring by the presence of foreign troops under the guise of ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘humanitarian foriegn aid’, said Bong Labog, chairperson of KMU and vice-chairperson of Bayan.

Labog cited the case of post-earthquake Haiti  wherein foreign and local private-sector investment played a huge part in the “re-building” of infrastracture needed to promote economic development and attract foreign corporations to finance roads, power lines, factories, markets, farm lands and the like.

The Philippine participants will be holding workshops and self-organized activities within the People’s Global Camp. The PGC will be held from December 3-6, 2013 at the Ngurah Rai Sports Center.

Some 1,000 delegates from local and interntional organizations are  participating in the event.

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2 December 2013

QUITE THE TALKER. Keith Rockwell, WTO director for information and external relations division. (Boy Bagwis)

QUITE THE TALKER. Keith Rockwell, WTO director for information and external relations division. (Boy Bagwis)

In his first press briefing a day before the official start of WTO 9th Ministerial Conference here in Bali, Indonesia, WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell addressed issues facing the upcoming negotiations, including the much-criticized “Bali package“. Rockwell admitted that forging an agreement within the conference is crucial to the existence of the multilateral trade system, and that “there is no Plan B” for the WTO should talks fail — as they have failed many times before.

A member of the Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN), a large youth organization in Indonesia, unfurls the banner of the International League of Peoples' Struggle (ILPS), in a protest action against the World Trade Organization. The students protested near the US consulate today because they criticized the US government for its maneuvering to force poor countries to accept liberalization policies and other neoliberal policies that favor US businesses while virtually killing local industries of the the poor countries. (Boy Bagwis)

A member of the Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN), a large youth organization in Indonesia, unfurls the banner of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) in a protest action against the World Trade Organization. The students protested near the US consulate today, criticizing the US government for forcing poor countries to accept liberalization policies and other neoliberal policies that favor US businesses while virtually killing local industries of the the poor countries. (Boy Bagwis)

Meanwhile, near the US consulate in Bali, more than a hundred students marched, unfurling banners and flags that condemn the WTO and the dominant force behind it — the US government.

Youth members of the Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN), which is one of the biggest youth organizations in Indonesia, declared their intention to take part in the various expressions of resistance against the WTO, including the People’s Global Camp (PGC) to be held in Ngurah Sai Sports Center in Denpasar, Bali at the same time as the ministerial conference.

“We are joining the growing people’s resistance against the WTO as we demand that the youth and the people’s interests, not neo-liberal policies, be made priority by national governments like the Indonesian government,” said Sandy Ame, FMN general secretary.

FMN also decried the removal by the WTO of the accreditation of some of its members who were earlier accepted as nongovernment organization (NGO) observers to the ministerial meeting.

According to the group, on afternoon of November 30, L. Muh. Hasan Harry Sandy Ame, general secretary of FMN, went to Hotel Santika to collect the registration badges for him and his three other colleagues.

There they were denied their badges. After pressing for answers, FMN’s Ame was eventually met by four representatives of Indonesia’s foreign and trade ministries who said that (1) “FMN’s platform and framework of the WTO run counter to each other”; (2) FMN “poses a security risk to the WTO”; and (3) FMN is “not legally registered as an organization in Indonesia.”

“Clearly, the FMN, despite having critical view of the WTO, wants to join in the WTO debate inside the ministerial. It is part of the
Indonesian civil society that wants to be involved in the process and lobby with other sectors and interest groups to governments for a human rights-based and people-centered trade framework. Is this what the Indonesian government scared of?” lamented Ahmed SH, spokesperson of the Indonesian People’s Alliance (IPA), of which FMN is a member.

IPA is sponsoring a People’s Global Camp as a counterpoint to the WTO ministerial meeting, to be held on December 3 to 6 at Ngurah Sai Sports Center, Denpasar, Bali.

Updates by KR Guda & Boy Bagwis

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