Yesterday, although not for very long, and not in any particularly significant way, I was twice almost at the nexus of the global conflict over trade. From my office window I can see the Convention Centre where the WTO talks are going on, as well as the barriers and closed roads around its circumference. I’m on the 24th floor but I could hear shouting and looking down to the street I could see a ring of Korean farmers staging a sitdown protest outside the Far East Finance Centre.
In the street, on my way home, I was approached by two Icelandic MPs and their secretary, delegates at the conference, who asked me where they could find somewhere nice to eat (specifically not Chinese food). I took them up the escalator and left them in SoHo outside an Italian restaurant. They didn’t speak much English so although I tried, I couldn’t get them to share their views of the purpose or likely outcome of the current talks.
The police are using pepper spray and the papers are full of rather weird shots of what looks like guano being sprayed on protestors’ heads. It sounds callous but we laughed heartily at pictures of Korean farmers jumping in the filthy harbour. After a few mouthfuls of that water, the global imbalance in trade will be the least of their worries.
Of course, there are serious issues here too and you get the feeling that people’s fears are not being addressed by the self-congratulatory elite holed up inside the Conference Centre or being directed to an Italian restaurant in one of Asia’s richest cities while farmers starve or throw themselves in the harbour.