A better world is possible



In this documentary we will analyse the roots of the alarming increase in hunger and misery in the world of the last ten years. What has been the impact of the neoliberal policies adopted globally, especially on developing countries? What roles have multilateral organisations such as the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF played in this process?

The episode covers the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference held in Hong Kong in December of 2005 and the spectacular demonstrations of Asian farmers against it.


WTO: The Battle of Hong Kong

Voice over:

It may be no coincidence that Hong Kong, the temple of international commerce, was chosen to host the sixth international Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation.

For many days prior, the international media analyse the event and the enormous repercussions it will have on the world economy. At the heart of the debate is agriculture, the most controversial aspect of world trade.

Upon his arrival in Hong Kong, the night before the summit inauguration, José Bové, one of the most charismatic leaders of La Vía Campesina, is arrested at the airport and prevented from entering the city.

José Bové – Confédération Paysanne, France:

I think they tried to stop me from entering because the Hong Kong authorities tried to prevent demonstrations by the anti-globalisation movements. And the Hong Kong authorities tried to halt the dynamic of these social movements in the streets, and that’s why they tried to prevent me from entering.

Voice over:

But what is exactly the World Trade Organisation?

Pedro Mejia – State Secretary for Commerce, Spain:

I don’t think the WTO is the demon some claim it is, but it must have something going for it as there’s a queue to join. There are loads of countries trying to join. We’ve just had three do so: Saudi Arabia, Togo, and another one... 150 and there’s a queue.

Voice over:

While the Ministerial Conference is held in the gigantic Crystal Palace Conference Centre, an anti-summit takes place in the nearby Victoria Park gardens. Some 5,000 people from more than 300 farming, social and non-profit groups world wide express their dissent from the WTO and denounce the perverse effects of liberalisation, to be found particularly among the poorest of developing countries. Those most harmed are the farmers and rural populations of both hemispheres, who paradoxically represent over half of the world population.

In Victoria Park there is an atmosphere of companionship, solidarity, commitment and opposition.

Alberto Gómez – Unión Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas, Mexico:

We insist, the free trade treaties, the WTO are violating our right to continue being farmers, our right to produce food, our right to produce raw material for our industries. We are being eliminated.

In these years of the free trade agreement, more than 200,000 jobs have been lost and emigration, a galloping emigration has created rural ghost towns.

Carlos Marentes – FarmWorkers, USA/Mexico:

First of all emigration is not that easy. Emigrants must risk their lives to enter those countries with manpower needs and where using cheap labour is encouraged. On the US-Mexico border in the last ten years around 3,000 Mexicans have died.

Voice over:

Hundreds of millions of rural inhabitants on all continents have had to abandon their homes to emigrate, first to the poorest urban suburbs of their cities, then to the developed countries. In Asia, liberalisation of rice farming has ruined hundreds of thousands of farmers, leaving them without their land. In the first large demonstration on the 13th of December, South Korean farmers throw themselves into the Hong Kong bay to illustrate how the WTO is drowning them.

Carlos Marentes:

Another phenomenon is that in the last five years, the emigration of young single women to the US has increased. In the fields, especially in Florida, California, and the area we are in now, there’s a strong presence of female immigrants. And these female immigrants are in much harsher conditions than the men.

Carmen Helena Ferreaira – CONTAG, Brazil:

We probably haven’t made much headway. We’re halfway through the conference and I can’t see much in the way of advances for family farms. And what does this have to do with women...? I think that of all the organisations here, few perceive what we are talking about. The impression I get, the certainty I have is that when we speak in the name of farmers around the world, we are speaking for only half of them. There’s another half which is composed of women who are in a totally unfavourable position, living in absolute poverty in all continents. These women are in a much worse situation than that of family farmers taken together.

It’s a difficult process but channels of communication have been opened. It’s important to point this out and some of our achievements are very important although not sufficient.

Pedro Mejia:

If you listen to Amorío today, you’ll hear him say that the European Union shouldn’t wait at all. It should reform its agriculture because it is the product of an injustice that has been going on for decades, so it shouldn’t expect anything in return. It’s an issue of absolute justice that we dismantle all our agricultural support systems and then we can talk.

Gonzalo Fanjul – Intermon Oxfam, Spain:

Ours is the dissenting voice in all this. We have the exact opposite perspective of those that have been expressed here. We believe that these negotiations are offering very little to developing countries, that what has been put on the negotiating table by the EU and the US is a very modest offer that doesn’t satisfy not only countries such as Brazil and Argentina, the heavily criticised big exporters, but African countries, Central American countries and south Asian countries which are not going to see any of their fundamental expectations met.

José Montilla - Minister of Commerce, Spain:

The European Union is certainly not the bad guy in the picture, and neither is European agriculture. What is clear is that we are the worst salespeople. Regarding the sales pitch of the European Commission’s proposal to the media, we haven’t been particularly agile. In part because it is assumed, and other countries take for granted, that the UE will undertake reform outside the framework of this WTO conference. In this respect some countries, like the US, are playing their cards accordingly and bluffing. They are able to mobilise social backing for their positions, and we know what’s behind them, so they are bluffing if not outright cheating.

Javier Sánchez – COAG, Spain:

We are obviously convinced that farming, society and consumers need an agricultural sector with farmers and that is the fight we will continue. For us, being here in Hong Kong, in addition to our stand of conviction and commitment, is also about showing support to family farms in countries like South Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh, Asian countries and in all countries, because it is the same fight and it is the fight we have chosen.

Voice over:

Within the conference, tensions grow and the possibility of reaching the compromises needed for an agreement seem very remote.

Eduardo Baamonde – COCEGA, Spain:

The terms of the debate have been set from four distinct perspectives. On one side the European Union, on another the United States, the third element which is now in play are the exporting countries led by Brazil, and the fourth large group are the less advanced countries. Strangely, the positions of the European Union are much closer to those of the less advanced countries, in spite of what’s being said in the media. And it is the United States and the big exporting countries which are now leading a more aggressive fight for liberalising agricultural trade, although from totally different perspectives.

Albert Broch – CONTAG, Brazil:

The most important thing happening here, from the CONTAG point of view, is that poor countries, developing countries, those countries which prior to Cancun had enormous difficulties to organise themselves, to hold common stands, we were toys of the United States, of the European Union. All the WTO agreements then current were highly damaging to poor countries and to family farming world wide. They generated dumping, enormous export subsidies, without any type of support for family farming, and these rules must be changed.

Voice over:

On the negotiating table are policies affecting the identity, ancestral culture and lifestyles of millions of farmers world wide.

Miguel Rosetto – Minister of Rural Development, Brazil:

I think that we have seen a change develop here in Hong Kong. A political change produced by the adjustments of the last few decades as well as some contradictions: the agenda imposed by rich countries upon poor and developing countries consisting of opening and liberalising their markets and the impact of this process on agricultural economies.

Elena Espinosa – Minister of Agriculture, Spain:

If at this moment there were a WTO agreement to be effective the 1st of January of 2007, for Spain the impact would be nil because we are going to do it anyway on 1/1/07.

José Montilla:

The revised PAC supports will be received in any case. They are not dependant on how this summit evolves.

Miguel Rosetto:

Therefore, taking up here an agenda of agrarian reform, of rural development, one which permits reflection and collaboration in overcoming poverty and social exclusion is very important. We are going to focus on this new challenge as an updated agenda. The agenda of agrarian reform and of rural development is not an outdated agenda. They are contemporary agendas which require from democratic governments a responsible, dedicated and committed adoption.

Voice over:

Paradoxically, Hong Kong, that strange and fascinating city where extremes of wealth and poverty live side by side, is transformed into a mirror reflecting the enormous inequalities to be found in the world: extremes of riches and misery on the same stage.

These same paradoxes have moved to China, the giant dragon which is waking up and capable of incinerating the weaker world economies in a single breath.

China was granted full membership in the WTO in 2002 and accepted a series of important commitments towards opening and liberalising its economic regime. At long last the golden door of the orient, dreamed of since the days of Marco Polo in the west, has opened to the promise of unlimited riches.

But reality has proven to be otherwise, and products from China are flooding world markets and causing serious damage to many industrial sectors in countries on the receiving end. In the eye of the hurricane is the status of industrial labour, approaching the slave labour conditions of millions of Chinese workers, many of whom were farmers who emmigrated to the cities. The big challenge here is if we will be able to export and globalise human rights and social justice.

Currently, 80% of the 6,000 factories which supply the North American Wal-Mart, the biggest company in the world, are in China.

The 8th of  February 2004 edition of the Washington Post states that while capital roams the world looking for cheaper and more flexible labour, and while poor countries rely on multinationals to provide jobs and open export markets, Wal-Mart and China have formed an extreme version of a risk capital joint venture, and this joint venture is setting the tone for work conditions and consumption all over the world.

At the WTO summit, agriculture remains the most complex and heated issue on the agenda, generating enormous controversy and focusing interest on the conference.

In Victoria Park, the South Korean farmers honour the memory of Jon Lee who committed suicide by self immolation at the 2003 WTO summit in Cancun, wearing a sign that said THE WTO KILLS FARMERS.

Demonstrations increase in intensity and continue to fill the streets of Hong Kong under the watchful eye of its peaceful citizens, who witness a metaphorical funeral for the WTO. The demonstrators raise their voices calling for the abolition of the WTO, which they see as an anti-democratic organisation at the service of increasingly concentrated economic interests which allow and foment world poverty and hunger.

On the 17th of December, before the summit ended, the most radical mobilisation of Asian protesters is expected. An enormous tension fills the air.

Two weeks before the WTO conference started, in mainland China, in Dongzhou, a rural village in the southern province of Guangdong, farmers protesting the expropriation of their lands at unfair prices to make way for an industrial complex were fired upon by police, killing dozens. The backdrop: the fight for land.

In Hong Kong, 9000 riot police and soldiers patrol the city’s main arteries, especially the Wan Chai district in the city centre as well as all the streets leading to the Ministerial Conference in the convention centre, turning it into a steel and glass bunker.

Paul Nicholson – Vía Campesina, Spain:

How to define what could be violence and non-violence because from the beginning we understood that we had to define this clearly in order to develop a main objective for us: to convince world-wide opinion, and public opinion here in Hong Kong, that the WTO is bad, it is bad for our rights as citizens.

We were not able to place 400 people inside the convention centre for about three minutes, which would have been a turning point.

When we got close to the convention centre, there were about 1,100 of us, and all exit points were then blocked and we were told we were under arrest.

Voice over:

The following morning, international media gather data on the farmer demonstration: 900 protesters had been arrested.

On the 18th, with the activists neutralised, the summit desperately seeks an emergency compromise. Will an agreement finally be reached?

José Bové:

I hope that these talks end in a failure for the WTO and that there is no agreement when the weekend finishes. At the same time, if there is no failure then there is a chance to start from new premises and to submit economic logic to fundamental human rights and to shift power from the multinational corporations to political institutions.

Javier Sánchez:

They are preparing a document which will allow them to move on and to leave Hong Kong claiming that this has been a success and that in March, April or even June they will able to start another Doha round, a Doha round which has nothing to do with social development, or development at all. It is simply free trade, free trade and free trade.

Voice over:

The streets of Hong Kong return to normal. The WTO talks are reaching an end. In the wee hours of the morning, a Ministerial Declaration is signed, an agreement of absolute minimums.

Alfredo Bonet – General Secretary for External Trade:

We cannot call the result a success. Or call it a failure. I believe it is a moderate success. Maybe the two most important agreements of this conference will have a positive impact on the poorest countries. One of them would be the elimination of subsidies to agricultural exports by 2013. A historic claim of developing countries which we were able to agree upon in this conference, and the other would be the commitment to allow free passage of goods from the least developed countries to developed ones and which in fact would cover 97% of imports.

Voice over:

We leave Hong Kong with the feeling of exiting a city of virtual reality. A mirage of never ending skyscrapers and lights which could vanish in an instant. Just like the Matrix universe in which we seem to live. And we are incapable of perceiving the devastating reality of hundreds of millions of human beings and their cry of desperation.


Direction and Screenplay – Sonia Llera

Direction of content – Vincent Garcés

Executive production – Paco Rodríguez, Manolo Rodríguez

Photography and camera – Sonia Llera

Editing – Raquel Jimenez

Original Music and musicians – David Abad, Diego Zapatero

Sound and mixing – Jose Luis Canalejo

Musical recording – Paco Aguarod

Graphics and Headings – Jesus de Matos, Marcela Pelegrin

“Etalonaje” ?  - Guillermo Peña

Production direction – Cruz Ortega, Sergio Escribano

Production aid – Eva Nistal

Special collaboration (in order of appearance) – José Bové, Pedro Mejia, Alberto Gomez, Carlos Marentes, Carmen Helena Ferreira, Gonzalo Fanjul, José Montilla, Javier Sanchez, Eduardo Baamonde, Alberto Broch, Miguel Rossetto, Elena Espinosa, Paul Nicholson, Alfredo Bonet


WTO: The Battle of Hong Kong