Trade union leaders and labor activists from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Philippines and joined by their Thai counterparts met in Bangkok last 21 February 2004 to redefine their agenda of engagement on globalization.
After the collapse of the WTO 5th Ministerial Meeting in Cancun last September, rich countries have doubled their efforts to forge bilateral Free Trade Agreements with developing countries to off-set their losses in Cancun. Concern is rife among Asian trade unions and labor NGOs that the gains of the labor movement and civil society in Cancun who prevented further trade liberalization, will become useless as developed countries led by the United States and the European Union, opened bilateral free trade negotiations towards the developing countries. Unregulated liberalization of the agriculture markets in south countries have suffered after the WTO Agreement on Agriculture was signed. They have lowered their tariffs and subsidies to meet the WTO requirements but big countries like the US and the EU have not complied. Countries in the south are also facing increasing unemployment and job insecurity as they lowered their industrial tariffs to meet trade liberalization in the region.
The Global Network-Asia seminar in Bangkok discussed the strategies of engagement for the next WTO Ministerial Meeting which will be held in Hong Kong next year. Participating organizations in the seminar pledged support to the Global Network-Hong Kong, an alliance of trade unions and civil society groups in HK and spearheaded by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Simultaneous actions and advocacies at the national level to engage national governments are planned as build-up campaigns for the regional campaign which will culminate in Hong Kong next year. However, Elizabeth Tang of HKCTU stressed that the campaigns should continue beyond the formal meetings, “building strength and capacities for action relating to the WTO and FTA should be consistent and not only during Ministerial Meetings.” She also emphasized the importance of the linkage between national and international campaigns.
This is the third Regional Seminar of Global Network in Asia following first and second regional seminars held in Manila and Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Global Network also participated in the global civil society presence during the WTO meeting in Cancun and the World Social Forum in India. Global Network is an international alliance of trade unions, NGOs and other civil society groups in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe to address issues and concerns relating to globalization such as the implications of WTO agreements and roles of international financial institutions in the developing world.