Trade protests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 December, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 December, 1999, 12:00am

The Internet may have opened up a wealth of possibilities for businesses around the world, but there is another more sinister side, as the extraordinary demonstrations in Seattle have once again shown.

To the benefits of instant communication and e-commerce we must now add the ability to organise mass protests and riots. The motley throng of protesters who have caused such mayhem at the WTO meeting in Seattle appeared to materialise out of thin air. And yet it seems likely that the well-organised - though amazingly disparate - groups were able to make contact and plot strategy via computers.

Unfortunately for protesters who perhaps had serious points to make, their message was overshadowed by the thrill-seekers and members of the lunatic fringe whose sole intent was violence.

Many countries can expect more of this co-ordinated action in the future. However, some lessons can be learned from Seattle. President Bill Clinton's comment that some of the groups deserved a place inside the meeting should be taken seriously.

Increased world trade, properly regulated, will eventually benefit everyone, including poorer nations. But breaking down trade barriers and creating free competition also generates many problems, especially for developing nations.

The pressing question is how these difficulties can be lessened and how concerned groups can be given a voice before their frustration creates scenes like those witnessed in Seattle.

Even so, no matter how justified their concerns, protesters will get a more sympathetic hearing if they channel their energies into seeking representation through peaceful means and distancing themselves from those who are simply out to make trouble.