21 October 2005

Thousands expected as Methodists join mass lobby of Parliament ahead of world trade talks

MAKE POVERTY HISTORY and Trade Justice Movement campaigners will be staging a mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 2 November 2005.

Thousands of people are expected to come to London to lobby their MPs as part of the MAKE POVERTY HISTORY campaign. Many Methodists have been involved in the trade justice campaign since its beginning and attended the campaign's first mass lobby in 2002. This lobby was the largest of its kind and was a turning point in gaining political and media attention. This year's lobby will build on the impact of previous mass demonstrations, including the 225,000-strong G8 rally in Edinburgh in July, and will be calling for trade justice, not free trade.

President of Conference, Revd Tom Stuckey, who was at the Edinburgh rally and will be attending the mass lobby, said: 'Thousands of people marched in Edinburgh to demand trade justice, debt cancellation and more and better aid. There is now a common understanding that we can all play a part in ending poverty, by pressing our leaders to change harmful policies. The commitments on aid and debt made at the G8 summit will achieve little, unless there is also major movement on trade policy. This lobby provides an opportunity to step up our campaigning and to get more people involved.'

Kirsty Smith, director of the Methodist Relief and Development Fund said: 'The timing of this lobby is crucial, as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meets just six weeks later. Pressure is increasing on the UK Government to take a lead at the WTO meeting in rewriting world trade rules to benefit poor countries and the environment. Our government needs to stop pushing poor countries to open their economies through the WTO and European Union policies and to respect poor countries' right to choose their own trade policies. We cannot make poverty history unless this happens and I hope that many MRDF supporters will join the mass lobby on 2 November, even if they have never lobbied their MP before.'

A move towards trade justice would make a real difference for those living in countries like Mali, one of the poorest nations in the world. A third of the population is dependent on cotton production, including cotton farmer Sedou Sangare. The world price of cotton has more than halved in the last 10 years, suppressed by government subsidies handed out to cotton farmers in rich countries. West African countries produce cotton very efficiently, at only a third of the cost of growing it in the USA, yet American cotton is so highly subsidised that it can be exported at below cost price, undercutting poor African, Brazilian and Indian farmers. This year, Sedou is struggling to make enough from cotton to feed his family: 'The problem is that cotton could [only] reach 210 francs per kg last year. This year I owe 35,000 francs for fertiliser and pesticides and the price of cotton is fixed at 160 francs per kg. If the price of fertiliser goes up, we will certainly be working at a loss.'

The UK lobby will follow Prime Minister's Question Time and takes place alongside lobbies being held across Europe and around the world. Westminster Central Hall will be hosting an ecumenical service at 4.30pm on the day of the lobby.

Half a million people in the UK have already cast a vote for Trade Justice in a special ballot, calling on the Government to support fairer trade rules, including many who have done so through the Methodist Recorder.

Campaigners should register at www.tjm.org.uk to receive more information and to contact their MPs in advance of the lobby. Fliers, posters and action packs are also available from MRDF, 25 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5JR or by calling 020 7467 5132.

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