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|World Trade Negotiations: Fighting for Food Security|
Following the World Trade Organisation's ministerial conference in Geneva from December 15th-17th, civil society groups question the legitimacy of the current global trading system and call for radically alternative policies to tackle unemployment, poverty and food insecurity.
16th December 2011 - Isolda Agazzi, Terraviva Europe (IPS)
As the Eighth Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) kicked off in Geneva, a group of NGOs exposed the devastating potential of a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and India. If passed, they say the deal would make a mockery of all WTO rules and regulations.
A recent impact assessment on the right to food of the EU-India FTA, researched and compiled by leading advocacy groups including the Delhi-based Third World Network (TWN), the Indian NGO Anthra and Germany charities Misereor, Glopolis and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, concluded that the proposed deal would violate the right to food of a vast segment of the Indian population, particularly those who rely on the poultry and dairy sectors.
Additionally, the zero-tariffs clause of the free trade agreement (FTA) could lacerate the retail sector by stripping small retailers of any protection against corporate giants.
Having sat on the table since 2007, the agreement could be sealed as early as next year, an outcome that many experts see as "disastrous" for the local economy.
"The EU is asking India to cut its tariffs to zero on at least 92 percent of all imports, including industrial and agricultural goods," Ranja Sengupta, senior researcher at TWN told IPS. "Considering that trade with EU represents 60 percent of India’s total international trade, this would be a disaster, particularly in hitherto protected sectors, like agriculture."
"Our (impact statement) focuses on the dairy and poultry sectors because they employ a large number of very small farmers, many of them operating in their backyards in order to subsist," Sengupta explained.
Given that the dairy sector currently provides 90 millions jobs, slashing tariffs will likely result in a repeat performance of the 1999 milk crisis in India, when EU imports of skimmed milk powder rose from 600 to 25,000 tonnes, effectively destroying the country’s "white revolution" for milk self-sufficiency.
Similarly, the pending FTA will flood the market with imports, depress producer prices, reduce incomes and eventually increase debt.
The poultry sector, which consists of 96 million small, landless agricultural households that manage 85 percent of the poultry stock, is currently guarded by a robust ‘100 percent tariff’ that actually prohibits imports.
But the FTA could kill these protections. According to Sengupta, Indians consume more poultry legs than breasts and vice versa in Europe. If the EU dumped its poultry legs on the local market, India would not be able to retaliate by exporting poultry breasts to European markets because of the latter’s strict health and safety standards.
Currently, the WTO advocates lowering tariffs, not removing them altogether. Additionally, the agenda for the ministerial meeting this week includes the question of industrialised countries eliminating government subsidies.
"In sharp contrast, FTAs like the one being negotiated between India and the EU insist on the complete elimination of tariffs but contain no binding clauses about eliminating subsidies," Sengupta lamented.
Experts are also concerned about the FTA’s impact on the retail sector, the second largest employer in India after agriculture.
In the WTO, services trade liberalisation is a relatively flexible mechanism because it allows countries themselves to decide which sectors to open up to foreign competition.
"But FTAs make very strong demands to liberalise services in high-employment areas like retail," effectively backing the government into a corner, Sengupta stressed.
Small vendors have already suffered major losses as a result of burgeoning domestic retail chains: 15 percent have seen a decline of their profits against Indian retail stores and 4.2 percent face annual closure if located near bigger retailers.
Additionally, larger retailers exercise a stranglehold over the market and then discreetly increase the prices they had originally kept low to attract consumers.
Still, Indian domestic retailers, which have already lacerated the market for small retailers, do not even hold a candle to multinational behemoths like Tesco or Carrefour, against whom small retailers in India do not stand a fighting chance.
Though India invests 51 percent of the country’s capital in single-brand retail – one company selling a single, branded product – it has not yet allowed foreign direct investment, which would be "suicide" for smaller stores.
Carrefour has promised to create 1.8 millions jobs but the five NGOs who authored the study on the FTA’s impact consider this figure to be unrealistic. Furthermore, 1.8 million new jobs hardly compensates for the estimated loss of 2.9 million to a potentially staggering 6.7 million informal jobs as a direct result of the zero tariffs clause.
"This is a very sensitive issue in the country but unfortunately the public is unaware of the serious impact of the FTA because negotiations are often conducted in secret. Contrary to the WTO, the FTA does not need to be ratified by the national parliament and state governments are not even consulted," Sengupta told IPS.
The EU-India FTA will also go much further than the WTO in the protection of intellectual property.
The EU is now pressuring India to accede to UPOV 1991 that grants seed breeding companies very strong rights at the expense of farmers, who will no longer be able to exchange, resell and use commercial seeds freely. This is a violation of their right to practise traditional forms of agriculture.
Many advocates are also concerned about the issue of "geographical indications (GIs)", a scheme that assigns certain products special status – based on their production location – and therefore a market advantage. The EU has established 190 GIs for agricultural products, which it wants India to recognise.
"But India is lagging behind in registering its own GIs, which means that EU products will get additional access to markets in India," Sengupta told IPS.
Experts believe that if substantial evidence finds the FTA to have potentially adverse consequences for the Indian people, it should be reviewed and renegotiated.
"There is no point in negotiating at the WTO if these FTAs are signed simultaneously," Sengupta stressed.
16th December 2011 - Olivier De Schutter, srfood.org
"The world is in the midst of a food crisis which requires a rapid policy response. But the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agenda has failed to adapt, and developing countries are rightly concerned that their hands will be tied by trade rules.”
This is the warning from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, as he issued recommendations to put the human right to adequate food at the top of the WTO agenda, one month before a key summit.
“Food security is the elephant in the room which the WTO must address. Trade did not feed the hungry when food was cheap and abundant, and is even less able to do so now that prices are sky-high. Global food imports shall be worth 1.3 trillion USD in 2011, and the food import bills of the least developed countries have soared by over a third over the last year. The G20 has acknowledged that excessive reliance on food imports has left people in developing countries increasingly vulnerable to price shocks and food shortages,” De Schutter said, adding: “The WTO must now do the same”.
The future of the Doha Round and the global trading system will be under discussion at the December 15-17 WTO ministerial conference in Geneva. “We must avoid face-saving, short-term solutions aimed at hauling Doha over the line”, the independent expert said. “Instead, we should grasp the opportunity to ask what kind of trade rules will allow us to combat food insecurity and realize the human right to food.”
Higher tariffs, temporary import restrictions, state purchase from small-holders, active marketing boards, safety net insurance schemes, and targeted farm subsidies are increasingly acknowledged as vital measures to rehabilitate local food production capacity in developing countries.
But WTO rules leave little space for developing countries to put these measures in place. “Even if certain policies are not disallowed, they are certainly discouraged by the complexity of the rules and the threat of legal action,” De Schutter said. “Current efforts to build humanitarian food reserves in Africa must tip-toe around the WTO rulebook. This is the world turned upside down. WTO rules should revolve around the human right to adequate food, not the other way around.”
“It is a problem of principle: the WTO continues to pursue the outdated goal of increasing trade for its own sake rather than encouraging more trade only insofar as it increases human wellbeing. It therefore treats food security policies as an unwelcome deviation from this path. Instead we need an environment that encourages bold policies to improve food security.”
“If the Doha Round is to move forward, it must lift any possible constraints on policies aimed at securing the right to food: such measures should include food stock-holding that aims to reduce price volatility and ensure access to adequate food at the local level.”
The Special Rapporteur called for an expert panel to be convened to reconcile food security and trade concerns; for a protocol to be established to monitor the impacts of trade on food prices; and for a general waiver to exempt food security-related measures from the WTO disciplines without penalty.
Global trade ministers today face pressure to announce a formal end to their Doha negotiations amid warnings of millions of jobs at risk.
14th December 2011 - War on Want
The call, made on the eve of the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference, comes from the charity War on Want, which has published research into the likely impact of further trade liberalisation through WTO negotiations.
According to War on Want’s research, WTO proposals threaten more than seven million jobs in nine developing countries – Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Philippines and Tunisia.
The charity warns that these jobs are in peril if the Geneva conference fails to accept the final closure of negotiations launched over ten years ago.
War on Want executive director John Hilary said: “The WTO has failed to deliver on every aspect of its supposed development agenda. The organisation’s very credibility is now in question. The Doha round should be formally abandoned without further delay, and a new process put in train to undo the damage the WTO has already done.”
Talks over the Doha development agenda have lurched from crisis to crisis as ministerial summits collapsed when rich countries made abortive bids to force open developing countries’ markets.
Last month, in the French city of Cannes, leaders of the G20 largest economies signalled the end of the Doha round and called for “fresh, credible approaches” to international trade negotiations.
Campaigners from nations including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia and Philippines will set up an “Occupy WTO” tent opposite the conference venue, and promote alternative policies to tackle unemployment and poverty.
Hilary added: “If there is to be any recovery from the global economic crisis, this ministerial must be the WTO’s last.”
16th December 2011 - La Via Campesina, Viacampesina.org
The WTO ministerial meeting on December 15-17, 2011, is taking place at a time of a crisis of growth for neoliberal regimes worldwide. This crisis started in 2007 with the food crisis, which is still not resolved. Since the WTO was created 16 years ago, millions of people’s lives have been ruined. At the time of its inception, Europe and the US were in the forefront of the creation of this trade organization.
Opening the market by cutting tariffs and cutting subsidies that favored the people was at the core of the neoliberal policies pushed by the WTO. Their policies were peddled under the belief that all would benefit and the environment would be protected, as mentioned in the WTO's mission statement. But the stark reality of the past 16 years have showed us otherwise.
Since the beginning of the Doha Round of negotiation in 2003 (also called the "Development Round"), La Via Campesina suspected that it would fail. There can be no development for the people under neoliberal policies.
Now people are marching and protesting in Spain, Italy and around the world, including the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in the United States. The 2008 Wall Street financial meltdown, caused by years of deregulation and a lack of government oversight, cost Americans $14 trillion and eight million jobs. Today some 25 million people are unemployed or underemployed in the United States. Neoliberal policies such as those advocated by the WTO were born in Europe and the US, but they are now turning on their own people, creating a social and economical crisis of historic proportions.
Farmers need access to credit, a fair mortgage on their land, fair prices for the food they produce, and seeds that are not patented and owned by Monsanto or other big corporations. Consumers need to be able to purchase healthy and local food and earn a living wage, as Jim Goodman wrote in his article on "Occupy the Food System" (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/12-0 ). He is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin and a member of Family Farm Defenders and the National Family Farm Coalition, a member of La Via Campesina in the US.
"The WTO is one of the neoliberal policies pillars – along with the World Bank and the IMF. The truth is that the neoliberal regime only benefits big transnational companies. Neoliberalism is nothing more than a corporate driven agenda” said Henry Saragih from Indonesia – general coordinator of Via Campesina.
In the WTO ministerial summit in Seattle in 1999, La Via Campesina stated on record that the neo-liberal agricultural policies were leading to the destruction of our family farm economies, to a profound crisis in our societies, and that they were threatening the very existence of our societies. The current global crisis shows that this analysis was right.
“WTO Kills Farmers” said Lee Kyung Hae, a farmer from South Korea during the fifth WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun in 2003, before stabbing himself to death during the protest. His sacrifice will never be forgotten. In 2005, thousands of peasants and small farmers were arrested during their struggle against the WTO in Hong Kong during the 6th WTO ministerial meeting.
“Food sovereignty is our answer to our common challenges. Too many people are suffering as a result of the WTO’s policies. WTO out of agriculture and food has become a strong demand of Via Campesina from Seattle until now. The current global food crisis is due to the very fact that food trade is in hands of a few TNCs" said Yudvhir Singh, a La Via Campesina leader from India.
During the climate talks in Durban last week, some efforts were made to include the WTO principles in order to solve the climate crisis. This move was clearly driven by the neoliberal free market strategy of considering climate as a commodity. Free trade will not solve the climate crisis. The free trade regime has led to the accumulation of capital (and power) in the hands of a few and has allowed the destruction of climate for profit's sake.
We saw at the last G-20 Summit in Cannes, France that the prevailing economic model was no longer sustainable. An economic model that is primarily designed to increase industrial and economic growth is no solution to the economic and environmental crises we now face. There is a need for a profound change in the modes of production and consumption.
La Via Campesina, representing 200 million farmers around the world repeats that it is time to end WTO. It is time to end "One Size Fits All" policies.
We call on all governments, local authorities, national and international institutions to implement the concept of Food Sovereignty. Food sovereignty is based upon the people’s rights to feed themselves and to chose their own food policies. The implementation of those rights will allow peasants and small farmers to feed the world.
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