16 Dec 2005

Tongan NGOs say joining the WTO will put people's lives at risk

3:45 pm on 16 December 2005

Civil Society groups in Tonga say the government could put the lives of people at risk by joining the World Trade Organisation.

Community groups are meeting to decide what action they can take to stop the kingdom from becoming a full member.

Tonga has completed its accession during WTO negotiations in Hong Kong but some regional NGOs say the package the country has been forced to sign is appalling.

Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki from the Tonga Womens' Action Group for Change and the Community Paralegal Assocation, says sectors like health and education could be negatively affected by membership.

Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki says slashing tariffs to less than 20 percent could also damage small businesses.

"We really don't know why our minister of labour and commerce has gone to such a grave extent. He has really just put the lives of Tongan people at a big risk here and to be honest with you I don't know why he's taking Tonga to that extent. Either he could be pressured, they could be pressure from some outside businesses, or he just absolutely has no idea."