December 12, 2005

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WTO MC6: Day 1

Sunday marked the first day of WTO protests, both pro (crowd estimate: 1) and anti (crowd estimate: 4,000 - although using last week's democracy march counting estimates, this number could really be anywhere between 4 and 40,000).

Who are the real winners and losers out of the WTO talks? The losers are easy to identify: already business is down in Wan Chai, ironically hurting the myriad small businesses and migrant workers these anti-WTO types pretend to stand for. Security is noticeably tighter at office buildings and hotels across the city. The protesters are getting prepared for their "peaceful" marches, purchasing gas masks and stealing uniforms.

The winners are harder to pick. The local media are having a field day. The English language press are preparing for blanket coverage while running full page ads from protectionist groups: today's is one from US steel manufacturers with a little girl standing in front of a portrait of a steel mill and asking "What if this were the only way our kids could see a U.S. factory?" It's intended to be a rhetorical question, although I don't know there are millions of America schoolkids clambouring for an excursion to the local factory, or that it's a good excuse to subsidise and prop up "ailing" manufacturers (who are doing better than ever). Clearly the other winners are tunnel users and the vast entourages wondering around Hong Kong, and Hong Kong's luxury retailers. No one spends like a trade ministry delegation.

What do the protesters stand for? It's a diverse collection. There's the migrant workers, the rural protectionists, the manufacturing protectionists, the anti-globalisers and the merely confused. In short, it's a collection of all those who don't understand economics and aren't interested in eliminating their ignorance. For example, try this guy in a chicken suit:
British activist Tom Grundy was dressed as a chicken and held a sign that said, "WTO: more dangerous than chicken flu." "We need to raise awareness of the true intention of the WTO," he said. "It's undemocratically elected. It undermines and overrides any law a country wants to bring to protect workers and the environment."
"It's undemocratically elected" - just like FIFA and the UN. Just to remind you, this is a meeting of the trade ministers from 149 countries. What's to elect? Undermines and overrides laws? You bet - that's what treaties do. This guy is an insult to chickens.

There is another irony. To some extent the protesters have valid points. World trade is unfair as it stands, with massive subsidies and market distortions making the world's poor poorer for the sake of rich French framers' vanity. Labour does get exploited. But the answer isn't to destroy the one multilateral avenue for negotiating improvements in world trade. To compound the irony, many of these same anti-globalisation protesters are fiercly pro-UN. Apparently some kinds of globalisation are OK.

When the various protesters look around Hong Kong and see widespread prosperity driven by unilateral free trade and capitalism, will it cause any of them to question their flimsy assumptions? Unlikely, because logic and rationality seldom triumph over dogma and faith.

Other links

This will be updated throughout the day.

You can follow all the events and updates via the Curbside at the WTO site, maintained by The Standard and HK University. I will be helping them out.

Outrage strikes! Our Coke machine won't be refilled this week due to the disruption! Now they've gone too far! Let the Coke greedy capitalists need it. And another point - if these gas masks were stolen to avoid tear gas, would anyone notice in Hong Kong's polluted city centre?

Revealed: one of Hong Kong police's major weapons against WTO protesters: playing at loud volumes the Christmas Carol musak that is taking over shopping malls and elevators all over the city. Film at 11.

Hemlock also wants to know what the protesters are on about:
Which of the wide variety of brainless causes does our scantily clad friend here espouse? Is she fighting for higher food prices for Korean families? Higher clothes prices for Europeans? Higher steel prices for Americans? Or is she fighting for foreign-owned factories in Southeast Asia to be shut down so the workers are thrown back into subsistence farming and have to pull their kids out of school?
posted by Simon on 12.12.05 at 09:47 AM in the WTO category.


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Hong Kong newspapers on Anti-WTO protest? Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative.

posted by: LfC on 12.12.05 at 10:46 AM [permalink]

Couldn't they be more original and all head out to Lamma and protest about Disney. No-one's going to be inconvenienced then!

I think Disney is on Lantau :)

posted by: Flagrant on 12.12.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Ooops, fixed. Thanks for noting it.

posted by: Simon on 12.12.05 at 11:31 AM [permalink]

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