WTO: ‘Importing Food is Importing Unemployment'
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WTO: ‘Importing Food is Importing Unemployment'
by Devinder Sharma
NEW DELHI - When J.B. Penn, United States under secretary
for agriculture, came visiting last month he was told that for India,
like any other mainly farming country, importing food was as good as
‘'We can do so (open up markets as requested by Penn), provided the U.S.
is willing to provide a visa to every farmer displaced as a consequence
of the import of cheaper and highly subsidised food,'' Penn was told by
India's articulate trade minister, Kamal Nath.
A vast majority of the developing countries, whether in Latin America, Africa or Asia have, in the first 10 years of WTO, turned into food importers. Millions of farmers have lost their livelihoods as a result of cheaper imports.
It was apparent that U.S. Congress would reject any deal that does not
open markets in developing countries--even if they have agrarian
economies-- for American farmers.
A week before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial at Hong
Kong began, Saxby Chabliss, chairman of the U.S. senate's agriculture
committee was quoted: ‘'To say we're just going to open up our markets
without having our farmers here have access to new markets...if that's all
that comes out of (the WTO meeting) Hong Kong, then we've accomplished
Compare this to what Nath told Indian parliament just before he left for
Hong Kong: ‘'I cannot sacrifice the future of India's 600 million
farmers at any cost. What the U.S. proposed, last month, is not real
cuts in agriculture subsidies. The real cuts would be when there is a
decline in the support provided by the U.S. treasury.''
The deadlock over agricultural subsidies will determine the future of
the ‘Doha Development round'. International trade in agriculture is
closely linked to the removal of agricultural subsidies-- presently
computed at 350 billion US dollars or one billion dollars a day -- that
the 30 rich countries forming the OECD (Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development) provide.
Recent estimates show that developing countries lose more than 24
billion dollars a year because of the protection that rich countries
provide their farmers.
Now that promises associated with the ‘development round' have fallen
flat, rich countries are strengthening defenses around domestic
agriculture and making it difficult for the developing world to
penetrate their markets.
Moreover, the industrialised countries continue to exert all kinds of
pressure to further open up developing country markets without waiting
for the developed countries to simultaneously bring down the
Threats are being resorted to now that it has become impossible to shift
the focus of ongoing negotiations from agriculture subsidies to market
access. - "Developing countries would lose if the Doha Development Round
fails," WTO chief Pascal Lamy warned African trade ministers, last
month, at Arusha. "The US can increase its trade-distorting domestic
support (TDS) by 5 billion dollars, the EU by 25 billion and Japan by 5
What Lamy did not say was that developing country agriculture was
doomed anyway if the huge subsidies the OECD pays to its agribusiness
corporations and rich farmers are not entirely scrapped.
Bribery and bait are the two other planks of the ‘negotiating' strategy
that are being applied. Least developing countries (LDCs) are being
provided with an ‘aid for trade' package, expected to be in the range of
four billion dollars, in the name of assistance to cope with adjustment
costs, and provide infrastructure.
Besides, the promise of a ‘development package' contains duty and quota-
free access for LDC products, preference erosion, some special and
differential treatment proposals and longer transition periods on trade-
related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and investment measures.
While the talks falter, highly subsidised imports from the developed
countries have already done irreparable damage to the agricultural
production potential of the developing countries. Between 1995 and 2004,
Europe alone has been able to increase its agricultural exports by 26
per cent mostly through massive domestic and export subsidies. Each
percentage increase in exports brings in a financial gain of three
On the other hand, a vast majority of the developing countries, whether
in Latin America, Africa or Asia have, in the first 10 years of WTO,
turned into food importers. Millions of farmers have lost their
livelihoods as a result of cheaper imports.
If the WTO has its way, and the developing countries fail to understand
the politics that drives the agriculture trade agenda, the world will
soon have two kinds of agriculture systems -- the rich countries
producing staple foods for the world's 6 billion plus people, and
developing countries growing cash crops like tomatoes, cut flowers,
peas, sunflowers, strawberries and vegetables.
This is what happened in many of the Latin American countries that were
forced to dismantle food security and diversify to cash crops as part of
the conditionality that came along with structural adjustment loans. The
same strategy is now being legitimized for the rest of the world under
the legal framework of the WTO.
As the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have repeatedly
emphasized, the dollars that developing countries earn from exporting
these crops will eventually be used to buy food grains from the
developed nations -- in reality, passing the reins of food security back
into the hands of rich countries.
For India, a major farming country, that would mean going back to the
days of a ‘ship-to-mouth' existence before it struggled to achieve food
self-sufficiency on the backs of hundreds of millions of small farmers.
It is the livelihoods of these farmers, as well as the food security of
the people they fed for decades, that is at stake at Hong Kong.
Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service