Mini-Ministerial Meeting Should Change WTO Tack on Food

Published on IPS, by Isolda Agazzi, Sep 3, 2009.

A group of 125 non-governmental organisations from 50 countries is calling on the governments participating in the mini-ministerial trade talks in India over the next two days to reject the further liberalisation of food and rather promote policies that will achieve food security and rural development and safeguard farmers’ livelihoods.

The organisations, of which 13 are in Africa, argue in a letter to the 36 countries attending the mini-ministerial meeting that the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) policies have resulted in “a failed global agricultural system including extremely volatile commodities markets, a lack of global access to nutritious and affordable food, an increase in hunger, and the erosion of farmers’ incomes.  

“These policies have culminated in the global food crisis we face today, where about 30,000 people die every day of poverty related causes, many due to malnutrition and hunger. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) estimates that over one billion people are now going hungry, with about 150 million more people experiencing hunger as a result of the current food crisis,” expound the organisations …

… Another coalition of NGOs, led by Third World Network and Focus on the Global South, warns that, “in the latest drafts (of the negotiating text), provisions intended to protect farmer’s livelihoods such as ‘special products’ and ‘special safeguard mechanisms’ have been rendered ineffective”. This coalition organised a strategy meeting in New Delhi on Sep 2, the day before the mini-ministerial conference.

For the letter signatories, the solution lies in food sovereignty and in the possibility for developing countries to exempt a large number of products from global trade when they are essential for food security, rural development and farmers’ livelihoods.

They are also calling for “a global trading system that disciplines corporate behaviour”, an end to dumping and an immediate stop to developed countries’ export subsidies in all their forms – especially rich country cotton subsidies that damage West African producers.

These NGOs also want new regulations on the market, such as new limits on speculation in commodity markets, as many African countries have proposed to the WTO.

As for the non-agriculture negotiations, which include fisheries, other natural resources and industrial products, “the tariff reductions and other demands will force developing countries to cut their actual customs duties in some instances and offer access to their markets to the 153 WTO member countries”, warn Focus on the Global South and Third World Network.

“This will have an enormous impact on our organised and unorganised sectors and the future of our manufacturing and fisheries sectors. At a time when (India) is reeling from the financial and agrarian crisis, Minister Sharma’s haste in concluding the Doha talks is unacceptable” they argue.

These NGOs say that in the initial years of the Doha Round (launched in 2001) India took a progressive stance, defending its own national interest as well as developing world concerns.

“But since the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) Government assumed power in 2004, there has been a steady downward spiral in India’s positions on the key areas under negotiation – agriculture, industrial tariffs, services and intellectual property. The UPA government should be pressurised by agriculture groups, trade unions and social movements to protect the rights of farmers and all workers.” END/2009. (full text).

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