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Farmers demand protective tariffs

Swiss and Norwegian farmers joined in the WTO protest

(Keystone)

Farmers from several countries, including Switzerland, have called for certain import and export barriers to be maintained in a bid to protect the agriculture sector.

They handed in a petition at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva in protest at global trade-liberalisation talks.

The group of 500 farmers’ representatives included a delegation from Norway which had marched more than 2,000km from Scandinavia.

The protesters called on the WTO on Tuesday to recognise the right of every country to shield agricultural production from global competition.

They said every country should be allowed to define a list of produce for which customs duties could be maintained.

Hansjörg Walter, the president of Switzerland’s main farmers’ association, warned that further steps towards liberalisation would jeopardise the existence of farmers.

He said it was wrong to focus on the agricultural sector since it made ten per cent of global trade.

The resolution was supported by Japan, South Korea, Nicaragua, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

NGO pressure

Ahead of planned trade talks at the WTO headquarters on Wednesday, representatives from around 60 international non-governmental organisations, social movements and trade unions have gathered in Geneva.

Going under the name of the Geneva People’s Alliance, the group includes organisations such as the Berne Declaration, attac, Friends of the Earth, War on Want, Oxfam and the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations. Their aim is to monitor the negotiations and debate current trade policies.

Campaigners fear that mounting pressure on WTO negotiators to break the deadlock means that decisions will be taken in "an even more opaque and undemocratic fashion" than the past.

"Last year we noticed that meetings of the WTO’s General Council were not followed closely by the media or civil society," Alessandro Pelizzari, spokesman for attac Switzerland, told swissinfo. "This time we will be watching closely and we will be ready to intervene if necessary."

The protests come as WTO member states try to unblock the stalled Doha Round of trade liberalisation negotiations.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The current round of trade talks was launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001 and should have been concluded in 2004.
But negotiations stalled after the failure of a ministerial conference in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003.
The next ministerial conference is due to take place in Hong Kong in December.

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