In November I got an e-mail from my buddy Chris Martin in Tacoma, Washington.
She was planning to go on a two-week study trip to China in December with Global Exchange, including a week in Hong Kong to attend the World Trade Organization (WTO) 6th Ministerial Meeting from December 13th-18th. Would I like to join her for a week of vacation in China following her study tour? I didn't particularly enjoy my travels in China last year, but I'm very interested in the WTO, so I decided to join her for just the Hong Kong part of her trip.
First, travel plans: there are several ways to travel from Cebu to Hong Kong.
One option is to fly direct, with Philippine Airlines; too easy, and much too expensive for my tastes.
Another option is the "economy route": boat from Cebu to Manila, then busride up to Clark Field in Pampanga, then fly to China with Tiger Airways, a new Singapore-based budget start-up. Yup!
Tiger sold me a round-trip ticket from Clark to Macau (Hong Kong's close neighbor) for $36 U.S. dollars; plus additional taxes and fees that brought it to a total of $112. OK!
My next mission: study up on the WTO: AOA (Agreement on Agriculture), GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services), TRIM (Trade-Related Investment Measures), TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), G20, G33, G90, Mode 4, commitments-limiting subsidization, domestic support and export subsidies, prohibition of quantitative restrictions, decision on customs valuation, long-term harmonization of rules of origin...sure, no problem, simple issues with simple solutions (NOT.)
I did do a fair bit of WTO reading and it mostly confirmed my general suspicions about this powerful, secretive, and profoundly undemocratic organization (see my Links page on this site for more information about the WTO.)
When the WTO was established in 1994, its preamble stated that its purpose was to bring about greater prosperity, increase employment, reduce poverty, diminish inequality, and promote sustainable development around the world through greater 'free trade.' Ten years later it is clear that the WTO has not delivered on these goals and has had exactly the opposite results. The WTO trade regime has counteracted measures that would promote development, alleviate poverty, and help ensure human and ecological survival, both locally and globally. Under the guise of 'free trade', WTO rules are used to force open new markets and bring them under the control of transnational corporations.
Furthermore, the big trading powers (U.S, E.U. and Japan) have used the WTO to advance and consolidate transnational corporate control of economic and social activities in areas beyond trade, including development, investment, competition, intellectual property rights, the provision of social services, environmental protection and government procurement.
The Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting would be a crucial one since the trade majors in the WTO were hoping to use it to conclude the Doha Round of negotiations (also called the Doha Development Agenda.) Activists wanted to make a strong showing in Hong Kong to ensure that the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting did not echo the "hegemonic interests" of the dominant countries led by the U.S. and the E.U. The tactical goal of most "progressive" WTO critics was simply to prevent successful completion of the DOHA Round, considering that all the likely-to-be-adopted proposals, put out by the U.S. and the E.U., offered few concessions to the developing countries while demanding much from them. The rallying cry was "No deal is better than a bad deal."
I left Cebu on December 8 onboard Superferry 8, a big beautiful boat. The seas were smooth, and it was a delightful trip up through the Visayan Islands, passing Cebu, Negros, Panay, Masbate, and Mindoro Islands, enroute to Luzon Island and Manila.
At the entrance to Manila Bay we passed Corregidor Island, background left. Also known as 'the Rock', it was the American troops' last stand in 1942 against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
We passed even closer to Fort Drum, a small islet also known as the 'concrete battleship', across from Corregidor. Starting in 1909, American engineers razed the tiny rock to the water line and a thick concrete casemate was constructed around it to create an impregnable fortress. Reports on the Internet say that the booming salvos from the fort in 1942 provided more support for the American defenders and more trouble for the Japanese attackers than any other installation in the Manila Bay defenses.
Plenty of smog upon arriving in Manila.
I rode the Philippine Rabbit bus up to Angeles City in Pampanga and flew out of Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, formerly Clark U.S. Air Force Base. The base was turned over to the Philippine government in 1991 following the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and cancellation of the historic U.S.-Philippines Base Agreement.
Mt. Ararat (sister volcano of Pinatubo) is visible in the background.
At the airport as I waited to go through the security checks, I stood behind a young Filipina woman who was on her way to Singapore to work as a domestic helper (maid.) Her husband and toddler son had come to see her off, and she held up the line briefly as she continued to hug and smother her son with kisses even as it was her turn to pass through the security gate. Finally she passed her son back to her husband and broke down in intense sobbing and wailing. She won't see them again for two years.
She's one of the eight million Filipino OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers), and hers was the face of forced migrant labor. Welcome to globalization.