Protesters disrupt US briefing at WTO conference, slapped with ban (12/9/2003)

CANCUN, Mexico (AFP), Sep 12, 2003

Protesters disrupted a press briefing called by US officials at a World Trade Organization meeting here Thursday, prompting WTO authorities to ban non-governmental organizations from future news conferences.

Minutes after Deputy US Trade Representative Peter Allgeier began addressing reporters, Greenpeace Mexico representative Alejandro Calvillo stood up and delivered a brief statement on the negative effect of US genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on Mexican farmers -- to the extreme consternation of the US delegation.

"In Mexico we want to protect our corn, our fields, our livelihood from the transgenic contamination imposed by GMO corn from the United States," Calvillo said.

He then left the briefing without incident. But moments later several women stood up, carrying signs in English and Spanish with the message: "WTO kills farmers," prompting angry objections from some reporters who shouted "Get out."

The women sat down and the conference proceeded.

Calvillo said his action was timed to coincide with the entry into force Thursday of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which allows countries to reject genetically modified organisms.

US authorities insist that GMOs are safe and constitute a valuable weapon in the war on hunger.  But according to Calvillo and Greenpeace, "genetically modified" maize imported from the United States is threatening to contaminate Mexican crops.

Allgeier during the press conference insisted that US trade officials were prepared to talk to protesters provided their approach to the debate was constructive.

WTO officials, citing complaints from reporters who said their work had been complicated by NGO representatives at press briefings, later announced a ban on NGOs at future news conferences at the convention center where the meeting has been underway since Wednesday.
"We cannot help but perceive that (the) US (WTO) actions are a pre- emptive strike on the Biosafety Protocol and developing country interests... The only African country to support the WTO challenge was Egypt, who soon retracted support on the grounds of consumer and environmental concerns. Developing countries, and African countries in particular, do not want to grow GM crops uncritically and without the due process of their regulatory systems approving them. They will not have their crops contaminated by GM crops". - the director-general of the Ethiopian-headquartered Environmental Protection Authority, Dr Tewolde Egziabher

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