HONG KONG, Dec 8 (AFP): When well-heeled trade negotiators and politicians from around the world sit around a conference table in Hong Kong next week, the lives and livelihoods of millions will be in the balance.
The people affected by its success or, more likely, failure, range from poor African cotton farmers for whom the talks could be, literally, a matter of life or death to rich American bankers keen to expand into the developing world.
They include struggling French farmers, fearful for their future, and textile workers toiling in the garment factories of Bangladesh.
There are Brazilian soya producers, hoping to see more trade with the global North, and the new breed of Chinese wheeler- dealers, eager for more trade east, west, north and south as China's economy rapidly expands.
Ahead of next week's talks, these are the stories of six such people, told to AFP reporters in six bureaus around the world:
From Dhaka, Bangladesh: Knowing nothing of trade talks and tariffs, Bangladeshi textile worker Lima Akhter, a slender sixteen-year-old weighing only 32 kilograms (70 pounds), walks three kilometres from her shared one-room slum home to the factory six days a week.
She works between 10 and 15 hours a day for some 1,800 taka (28 dollars) a month.
Bangladesh already enjoys duty-free access for textile exports to the European Union (EU) but wants that to be extended to allow its produce into all developed nations, including the United States, and with easier conditions.
Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries, with nearly half the 140 million population surviving on less than a dollar a day, and textile exports are a major source of revenue for the country.
If market access to the United States and other developed countries were to be eased, it could mean thousands of new jobs, better wages and an immediate reduction in poverty in Bangladesh, trade campaigners say.
"Allowing duty-free access of goods to developed nations would be a huge boost for the poor textile workers in countries like Bangladesh. There will be more jobs on offer, more choices and eventually a better living," said Ziaul Haq Mukta of the Bangladesh rights group Working Women.
"My father and I are the only members of our family that are earning. My salary means a lot to them," Lima told AFP in Dhaka.
From Djougou, Benin: "Three of my children died from hunger in July and August. The village doctor could not save them. I don't want to continue to bury my children," Gafary Maya told AFP this week, with tears filling his eyes.
Maya, 41, is a cotton farmer in west Africa, part of a generation whose businesses have collapsed as their foreign market dried up, thanks at least in part to the subsidies received by US and European counterparts.
And having put his all into growing a crop he could neither sell nor eat, three of his children died through malnutrition this year, he claimed.
The subsidies paid to US cotton farmers in particular are likely to be a core issue of debate at the talks in Hong Kong talks next week, with Africa pressing harder than anyone for them to be cut.
With the market for African cotton undermined by US subsidies, once booming exports are a thing of the past and the government in Benin's main city of Cotonou has failed to pay even last year's meagre subsidies.
From LE MERZER, France: While life is harsh and unfair for many in Africa, Pierre-Yves Lozahic, a 40-year-old turkey farmer in Brittany, is also unhappy with the state of farming in Europe and fearful of what the future might bring.
France is the fiercest supporter of the billions of dollars the EU pays its farmers in subsidies each year and Lozahic is uneasy at the pressure for the sort of changes Maya and others would like to see in the current WTO talks.
The cutting of farm subsidies for the rich countries would, still, come at some cost, and it would be people like Lozahic who would pay, he says.
"I am obviously nervous," he told AFP at the Brittany farm where he has raised turkeys and farmed since 1989.
After a previous round of talks, poultry production in Brittany fell by 27 percent between 1998 and 2004, as cheaper chickens from Brazil and Thailand were used by the food industry in ready-made meals.
Lozahic, who has four children, describes his situation as "difficult". "The sales price of our poultry has not gone up while our costs are rising."
For all his efforts, and despite investment, Lozahic does not even make the French minimum wage and thinks the competition he faces already is not fair.
From Beijing, China: If life is still harsh for many in Asia, the living is easy for some. James Wang, a private business consultant from Chengdu in southwest China, is one of them.
Since it joined the global trade club in 2001, China's trade with the world has exploded, and Wang and his clients are among the beneficiaries.
"In terms of the WTO, I have clients that are looking for lower import duties on goods, which means better earnings for them and that therefore helps my business," Wang told AFP, in between business meetings in Beijing.
Whether it's the importing of Porsche cars, his newest project, or the building of golf courses requiring overseas raw materials, or more competitive prices on restricted barley for foreign beer makers, Wang believes the lowering of tariffs can only be beneficial to China.
"If you look at luxury goods ... there are huge tariffs," said Wang, 44.
"A Porsche in China still costs about two to three times more than it does in Europe ... (and) these kind of tariffs could come down more," he said.
"The WTO can help to change that and it will be benefit the country," Wang said, before flying to London.
Freeing up trade with China may do little for some people, but it has made people like James Wang rich.
From Vianopolis, Brazil: Marcelo Caixeta, 63, has for the past 20 years worked a 600-hectare farm in Goias state, central Brazil, producing soya, maize and wheat and raising cattle.
Although, like Wang, he comes from a developing country and wants trade pressures eased, his concerns could not be more different from those of the Chinese business consultant.
His entire soya production is currently exported through the multinationals that have made Brazil the world's largest soya exporter.
But Caixete, who heads the Goias state farming federation, says he wants that to change so that individual farmers can export directly-and he wants tariffs and subsidies to come down to help that to happen.
From Washington, United States: Far from the concerns of the Benin cotton farmer or the Brazilian soya producer, Rick Lazio, a vice- president of US banking giants JP Morgan, has other things on his mind.
While non-government groups and trade activists are concentrating on the need for reform in the farm sector, as key to helping poor countries, this is not where the money is to be made. That, according to Rick, is in the services sector.
Covering 163 sectors including banking and insurance, the talks on services are based on a process where countries ask their trading partners for liberalisation in specific areas and the latter come up with their own proposals in return.
So far, fewer than 100 member states have made an offer. The EU wants developing countries to liberalise 139 sectors but the latter only want reforms in 93.
Rick Lazio is a firm advocate of more change in the services sector and thinks the burden lies with the developing world.