The storm before the storm

11 December 2005

As ministers from the WTO's 149 member states settled in to Hong Kong's shiniest hotels, local migrant workers and the vanguards of the international contingents of protesters took to the streets for the opening rally of what promises to be an incendiary week.


Among the 4,000 who set the ball rolling with chants of "our world is not for sale" was the first batch of thunderous Korean farmers. Immigration officials look forward to welcoming a further 1,500 tomorrow.

Also in evidence were several hundred of Hong Kong's 97,000 Indonesian migrant workers, almost all of whom work as domestic servants. The vast majority of them had received, via their employers, a letter from the Indonesian consulate warning them that the Hong Kong police had prison sells with their names on them. That, it seems, was an empty threat. Nonetheless, according to a reliable local hack, any plucky migrant spotted on the march can expect the sack.

Obvious a slogan as "people before profit" might seem, it reflects a worrying reality. Word is that the EU may push a last ditch deal in which Britain's rebate would be put on the table in exchange for the French committing to a review of the Common Agricultural Policy. By way of recompense for such magnanimity, developing countries would be impolitely asked to tear open their manufacturing and services markets. More than one Asian peasant was close to tears today as he contemplated the ruination such a deal would visit on his family.

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