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China WTO Entry Could Hit Tibet Farmers: Rights Group

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/11/10; November 10, 2001.]

BEIJING, Nov 9 (AFP) - China's entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), expected to be sealed this weekend, could have serious consequences for the people of Tibet, a rights group warned Friday.

Farmers across China are expected to be among the losers after the WTO accession, and a report by the London-based Free Tibet Campaign said Tibet's predominantly agrarian population could be particularly hit.

Tariffs on many agricultural imports will be slashed after China joins the global trade club, allowing in cheaper foods from vast foreign farms which are greatly more efficient than China's millions of small holdings.

A meeting of WTO members in Doha, Qatar on Saturday is almost certain to vote in favour of allowing Chinese membership, ending a 15-year battle by Beijing to join.

Tibet's agricultural and pastoral sector, on which three-quarters of Tibetans rely for survival, has been left particularly vulnerable by fifty years of Chinese rule, the Free Tibet Campaign report said.

Many Tibetans have traditionally scratched out a living in Tibet's vast and often infertile landscape as nomadic or semi-nomadic herders.

However many of these have been forced to settle, leading to land degradation and leaving people far more reliant on market prices of crops they produce for their livelihood, the report said.

Prices of barley, Tibet's most important agricultural crop, could also drop following WTO entry as existing import quotas for the crop will eventually be replaced by a nine percent tariff, it added.

China on Thursday loudly trumpeted the benefits it said its rule over Tibet had brought the people of the Himalayan region.

A 16,000-word white paper issued by the country's cabinet, the State Council, said ordinary Tibetans, suffering under the yoke of feudalism before China's "peaceful liberation" in 1950, were now healthier and far richer.

However the Free Tibet Campaign said Chinese rule had, instead, led directly to the precarious position faced by many Tibetans ahead of China's WTO membership.

"The Chinese government has repeatedly denied Tibetans the right to determine their own political and economic future for over fifty years, and WTO accession seems likely to pose new threats to these democratic rights," said Anne Callaghan of the Free Tibet Campaign.

"Only when the Tibetans have more control over their own affairs will these risks recede."

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