Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search


Agric. Trade Liberalisation & 3rd World Farmers

Agricultural Trade Liberalisation and Third World farmers

opinion piece by Aziz Choudry

Two very different meetings have focussed on trade liberalisation and agriculture this month, seemingly worlds apart. Last week in Banff, Canada, Jim Sutton attended the first Cairns Group Ministerial meeting since the Seattle World Trade Organisation Ministerial failed to launch a new round of trade negotiations.

The Cairns Group, comprising 18 agricultural exporting nations, played an activist role during the GATT Uruguay Round and now the WTO in promoting further, faster liberalisation of agricultural trade. It is dissatisfied with the level of agricultural protection remaining since the Uruguay Round, especially in Europe, Japan and the USA.

It wants significant tariff cuts, elimination of export subsidies, major reductions and restrictions of domestic subsidies and other supports for agriculture, and much greater market access.

But earlier in October, in Bangalore, India, nearly 100 farmers' associations from 68 countries attended the International Farmers' Conference sponsored by Via Campesina (Peasant Road), a global movement comprising peasant organisations, small and medium-sized farmers, agricultural workers, rural women and indigenous communities. Via Campesina rejects the WTO agriculture agreement as fundamentally imbalanced in favour of agribusiness corporations’ and developed countries’ interests, and detrimental to peasant farmers and rural communities. It wants agriculture removed from the WTO altogether. It believes agriculture and food are not commodities to be regulated only by a marketplace dominated by transnational corporations which they see as the major beneficiaries of liberalisation.

By the early 1990s, 77% of the world cereal trade was controlled by 5 transnational corporations; in bananas, 80% was controlled by 3 corporations; in tobacco, 87% by 4 corporations. Agribusiness transnationals have greatly influenced the positions of governments in trade negotiations. Agriculture was exempt from GATT until the Uruguay Round. Since then there have been intense irreconcilable debates between rich and poor countries.

In Bangalore, Karnataka State Farmers' Association president M.D. Nanjundaswamy said the aim of the WTO agriculture agreement was to find new markets for US and EU farm products. “It amounts to monopoly of agriculture by the developed world".

Via Campesina argues: “Access to food is a basic human right which can only be ensured in a system where food sovereignty is guaranteed. Food sovereignty is the right of each nation to maintain and develop its own capacity to produce the people´s basic food while respecting productive and cultural diversity. It is a pre-condition for genuine food security”.

Next month, Indian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Thai, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese small farmers will join a “People’s Caravan” across Asia to highlight globalisation’s impact on their communities.

Small farmers form a large part of many developing countries’ populations. Their livelihoods and products (especially food) are the main basis of many economies. Trade liberalisation and structural adjustment policies are destroying local productive capacity in rural societies, and small farmers’ livelihoods. They push countries into cash crop export production at the expense of domestic food production.

Around a million families lost their livelihoods as maize prices plummeted in Mexico due to cheap, subsidised imports with the implementation of NAFTA in 1994.

Since its IMF-prescribed farming reforms and the implementation of the Uruguay Round, the Philippines, a Cairns Group member, has achieved a dramatic negative balance of trade in agriculture. A net exporter in agricultural produce in the past, it ran a US $42 million deficit in 1994, which skyrocketed to $789 million in 1996. Imports have almost doubled since 1993, but exports have registered negative growth rates since the Uruguay Round’s implementation. The Philippine government claimed GATT would create half a million jobs. But 191,000 agricultural jobs were lost in 1997.

Free traders say countries should produce commodities in which they are relatively more efficient. If basic food staples like rice cannot be efficiently produced, they should be imported. This assumes countries have the necessary foreign exchange to buy them. With limited foreign exchange many cannot pay for imports, however cheap, without endangering their external payments position.

Overall farm subsidy levels have increased in OECD countries to US$274 billion in 1998. But WTO agreements prevent developing countries which have traditionally not provided subsidies from providing any supports to cushion the effects of liberalisation. Conversely, developed countries enjoy tremendous flexibility to maintain high tariff levels, farm supports and subsidies.

Despite promises, there has been no political will to address the problems of net-food-importing developing countries. Calls for a review and assessment of the impact of Uruguay Round commitments have been ignored. Yet the agriculture agreement states that a continuation of the liberalisation programme must take into account the implementation experience including effects on food security.

In June, the WTO Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture heard that liberalisation triggered by the Uruguay Round has “broken the agricultural backbone” of many developing countries. A group of 11 Asian, African and Central American countries reported that key agricultural sectors vital for the economy in terms of food supply, employment, economic growth and poverty reduction were being seriously eroded due to the inability to compete with cheap imports. The balance of payments situation has worsened. Food security, unemployment and poverty have deteriorated. “Chronic food insecurity puts national security in jeopardy by placing at risk the health of a large number of people, and ...[inciting] internal turmoil and instability,” they said.

They recommended that developing countries be allowed greater flexibility of policy measures including raising tariffs on key products to protect and enhance food production capacity particularly of key staples, increase food security and accessibility for the poorest, provide and sustain employment for rural poor, protect farmers from cheap imports, give flexibility to support small farmers and end dumping of cheap, subsidised imports.

The Cairns Group, supported by the government, in pushing for more of the same policies that the Third World finds so damaging, says that this is in their interests.

Jim Sutton claims: “Any responsible government whether developed or less developed wants to improve the welfare of its people. That is after all what trade liberalisation is about.“

Such views seem increasingly questionable alongside mounting evidence that agricultural liberalisation has been disastrous for many poorer nations.

- Aziz Choudry works for GATT Watchdog.
Feedback.. notoapec@clear.net.nz

© Scoop Media

Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

Gordon Campbell: On The Peters/Ardern Triumph

There are a lot of good reasons to feel joyful about this outcome. It is what so many young voters – the best hope for the country’s future – wanted.

Far more important than the implications for the Economy Gods ( is the dollar up or down? ) last night’s outcome will also mean many, many vulnerable New Zealanders will have a better life over the next three years at least.

Yet the desire for change was in the majority, across the country..>>>More


Labour on its agreement |Peters: Post-Election Announcement Speech | Greenpeace “cautiously hopeful” about new Government | ACT - Madman on the loose | E tū ecstatic | Chamber welcomes the outcome | Greens on their joining Govt | EDS welcomes new govt | Immigrant groups worry | Feds ready to engage new coalition government | Labour Ministers of the Crown announced


Climate: Increasing Greenhouse Emissions Hit NZ

New Zealand is seeing impacts of excess greenhouse gas emissions in our climate and oceans, according to the latest national report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ about the state of the atmosphere and climate…More>>


Wellington.Scoop: Arrests At Blockade Of "Weapons Expo"

“We encourage people in Wellington to get down to the Westpac Stadium now for a day of awesome peace action. There will be plenty of food, music and activities to keep us sustained through the day.” More>>


Rorschach Restructuring: PSA Taking Inland Revenue To Court Over Psychometrics

The Public Service Association will be seeing Inland Revenue in Employment Court over its intention to psychometrically test employees reapplying for their roles at the department as part of its controversial Business Transformation restructuring plan. More>>


Nuclear Disarmament: Nobel Peace Prize 2017 Awarded To ICAN

Congratulations from iCAN Aotearoa New Zealand to international iCAN, the other iCAN national campaigns and partner organisations, and the countless organisations and individuals who have worked so hard for a nuclear weapons-free world since 1945. More>>


Expenses: Waikato DHB CEO Resigns

An independent inquiry has identified that Dr Murray had spent more than the agreed $25K allocated for relocation costs, and other unauthorized expenses involving potential financial breaches of the chief executive’s obligations. More>>


Wellington.Scoop: Sad About The Trolley Buses?

The Regional Council’s MetLink is today spending money to tell us that it really loves Wellington’s trolley buses, even though they’re all being taken off our roads by the end of this month. More>>


Post-Election: Preliminary Coalition Talks Begin

New Zealand First will hold post-election preliminary discussions in Wellington with the National Party tomorrow morning and the Labour Party tomorrow afternoon. More>>




Featured InfoPages

Opening the Election