Organic Consumers Association

OCA
Homepage

Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!

JOIN THE OCA NETWORK!

Global Farmers Movement Calls for Human Rights & Local Sustainable Development, Not Globalized "Free Trade"

From: Ag News You Can Use #90
Amigo Cantisano <orgamigo@jps.net>

Farmers Resist WTO in Hong Kong
<http://viacampesina.org>
Dec. 29,2005

"Down with the WTO," intoned ranks of South Korean farmers, kneeling every
three steps as they marched in a Buddhist ritual down the streets of Hong
Kong last week. As government negotiators struggled and jockeyed over the
direction of the World Trade Organization (WTO), farmers and farmworkers
from around the world were also present, asserting a positive vision for an
agricultural system based on food sovereignty and human rights.

"No other work in the world is remunerated with such low wages as that of
work done in agriculture," noted P. Chennaiah of the Vyavasaya Vruthidarula
Union (APVVU), an agricultural laborer and small-scale farmer organization
in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Ironically, over 50% of the world's
hungry people are small-scale farmers, struggling to sell their crops and
make a living in the face of a long global trend of falling prices for
agricultural goods. This trend is exacerbated by agricultural
industrialization, corporate concentration, and trade practices that
undermine local markets. Displaced small-scale farmers migrate to industrial
farms or cities, driving sweatshop conditions in the factories and in the
fields.

"With the opening up of rice markets, people's livelihoods, people's incomes
from rice production are going to be devastated," said Jennifer Mourin of
Pesticide Action Network Asia-Pacific. "That is why among us are many groups
who campaign to save rice, our indigenous varieties, our local rice
culture."

Farmers fear a WTO agricultural agreement will lock in trade policies that
further undermine local markets, and make it impossible to address the
global rural crisis. In addition, WTO's TRIPS intellectual property
agreement allows corporations such as Monsanto to patent rice and other crop
seeds, endangering farmers' access to one of the most fundamental elements
of human heritage. During the previous WTO ministerial meeting in Cancún in
2003, Korean farm leader Lee Kyung Hae took his life in public on a police
barricade, wearing the sign, "WTO Kills Farmers". This year, Hong Kong
police responded to farmer protests with pepper spray, tear gas, and
violence, and arrested over 900 people.

"It is time for agricultural workers to rise up collectively all over the
world to show how we have been dehumanised and exploited," Chennaiah
declared while launching the Coalition of Agricultural Workers International
(CAWI) on December 16th. CAWI already represents agricultural workers'
groups from Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka,
Tanzania, and the U.S. The launch of this new people's movement was just one
of the many peaceful public events organized in Hong Kong by the People's
Coalition on Food Sovereignty, associated with the global farmers' network
Via Campesina. Via Campesina defines food sovereignty as:


"...peoples', countries' or state unions' right to define their agricultural
and food policy, without any dumping vis-à-vis third countries. Food
sovereignty includes prioritizing local agricultural production in order to
feed the people... Food sovereignty is not contrary to trade but to the
priority given to exports."

The Via Campesina network calls for a new trade framework under the United
Nations to prioritize local and regional production over exports, allow
countries to protect themselves from "dumping", permit certain kinds of
government support for farmers, and guarantee stable agricultural prices
globally through international agreements on supply management.

The clashes of farmers and police in Hong Kong represented dramatically
differing worldviews around the decision-making processes and values on
which the world economy should be built. Via Campesina insists that the WTO
should not make decisions on behalf of global farmers through undemocratic
processes dominated by rich countries, and that trade systems should serve
local values of food production and distribution. According to Walden Bello
of the Bangkok research group Focus on the Global South, "Free trade should
be subordinated to development, and development should be in fact the
central mechanism."

Meanwhile, inside the luxurious hotels hosting the negotiations, developing
countries constructed large coalitions such as the G90 to represent their
interests in the face of pressure from the U.S. and the European Union to
reduce their economic protections in exchange for concessions on
agriculture. The resulting agreement underscores the WTO's intent to
dismantle agricultural and industrial protections, while establishing a
phase-out of agricultural export subsidies by 2013, with Europe making the
deepest cuts.

According to Focus on the Global South, the E.U. is extracting a high price
in return for doing very little. Although a large proportion of E.U.
supports go into subsidizing exports, only a small part is classified as
export subsidies. "There are no real cuts in domestic supports and export
subsidies by the E.U. or U.S. with this [agreed upon] text...E.U. export
subsidies will simply still take place in another form to the tune of 55
billion Euros per year," noted analyst Aileen Kwa.

Negotiators were unable to agree on details on most of the topics on their
agenda, and have set new deadlines in 2006 to develop more specific
proposals. Meanwhile, Via Campesina and its supporters plan to continue
organizing a more democratic global food system in order to revitalize rural
economies.

Sources:
Via Campesina. 2005:"What is Food Sovereignty?"; Pesticide Action Network
Asia-Pacific; Focus on the Global South;Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO). 2004. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004; Beitel, Karl.
2005. US Farm Subsidies and the Farm Economy: Myths, Realities,
Alternatives. Food First Backgrounder, Summer/Fall 2005.