Cancun, A New
By Devinder Sharma
17 September, 2003
big boys have returned home, this time empty handed.
They have vowed
to return back. And obviously, like 'Morgan, the Pirate' who dominated
the high seas in that yesteryear's Hollywood blockbuster, the four big
trade bullies - United States, European Union, Japan and Canada - the
so called 'Quad' group, too will return with a vengeance. The failure
of Cancun Ministerial only strengthens their resolve to re-emerge with
some more ruthless manipulations.
The world has come
a long way since 'Morgan, the Pirate' used to rule the major trade route
- the high seas. Developing countries too have learnt the hard way the
dictum of international trade, lobbying, coercion, and deft manipulations.
No wonder, in just a span of four years, two of the WTO Ministerial
collapsed. First Seattle in 1999, and now the sudden death at Cancun
2003, the developing world has demonstrated that it will no longer take
it lying down. Their anger and rebellion has already caused the biggest
derailment to the development agenda. And, rightly so.
Just before the
Cancun Ministerial, President Toure of Mali co-authored a letter to
the New York Times condemning the cotton subsidies in America that have
been devastating for West African countries -- Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad
and Benin. His colleague, President Compaore of Burkina Faso, spoke
to the Trade Negotiating Committee of the WTO in June. They voiced their
concern at the way direct financial assistance by a number of exporting
countries, including US, European Union and China, to the tune of 73
per cent of the world cotton production, destroyed millions of livelihoods
in West African countries. As a result, African cotton producers realise
only 60 per cent of their costs, although their cost of production is
less than half of that reaped in the developed countries.
In 2001, the 25,000
US cotton growers received roughly $3.9 billion in subsidy payments,
for producing a cotton crop that was worth only US$ 3 billion at world
market prices (One Arkansas cotton grower received US $ 6 million, equal
to the combined annual earnings of 25,000 cotton farmers in Mali). Such
are the glaring inequalities, that an American cotton farmer on an average
receives US $ 10.7 million a day as subsidies. More for pacifying the
public sympathies than for correcting the dirty economics, the WTO did
consider the contentious issue of cotton subsidies, as if it was an
isolated case of exploitation of developing country farmers.
WTO has delivered its verdict. The text of the Draft Cancun Ministerial
says: "The Director-General is instructed to consult with the relevant
international organizations including the Bretton Woods Institutions,
the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Trade Centre
to effectively direct existing programmes and resources towards diversification
of the economies where cotton accounts for major share of their GDP."
In simple words,
there is nothing wrong with the highly subsidised cotton farming in
the US, EU and China, the fault rests with millions of small and marginal
farmers in West Africa. Cancun Ministerial had instructed (the draft
obviously remains rejected with Cancun failure) the WTO director general,
the FAO and the World Bank/IMF to make available adequate investments
for suitable programmes that enable these farmers to diversify from
cotton to other crops.
WTO says the West
African farmers should stop growing cotton.
The lesson for the
rest of the world is crystal clear. The developing world should stop
growing crops that are being negatively impacted by monumental subsidies
that the rich and industrialised countries provide. For the G-21, that
created a lot of noise and dust over the US $ 311 billion in farm subsidies
that the richest trading block - the Organisation for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD) - provides for its agriculture, the writing is
on the wall. And this is exactly what I have been warning all these
years. The process to shift the production of staple foods and major
commercial commodities to the OECD had in fact begun much earlier. WTO
is merely legitimising the new farming system approach.
World Bank/IMF have
under the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) very clearly tied up
credit with crop diversification. It continues to force developing countries
to shift from staple foods (crucial for food security needs) to cash
crops that meet the luxury requirement of the western countries. It
has therefore been forcing developing countries to dismantle state support
to food procurement, withdraw price support to farmers, dismantle food
procurement, and relax land ceiling laws enabling corporates to move
into agriculture. Farmers need to be left at the mercy of the market
forces. Since they are 'inefficient' producers, they need to be replaced
by the industry.
The same prescription
for farming has never been suggested for the rich and industrialised
countries. Let us be very clear, one part of the world that needs to
go in for immediate crop diversification is the industrial world. These
are the countries that produce mounting surpluses of wheat, rice, corn,
soybean, sugar beat, cotton, and that too under environmentally unsound
conditions leading to an ecological catastrophe. These are the countries
that inflict double the damage - first destroy the land by highly intensive
crop practices, pollute ground water, contaminate the environment, and
then receive massive subsidies to keep these unsustainable practices
artificially viable. These are the countries that are faced with the
tragic consequences of massive farm displacements, and are in the grip
of food calamities arising from industrial farming.
If the WTO has its
ways, and the developing countries fail to understand the prevailing
politics that drives the agriculture trade agenda, the world will soon
have two kinds of agriculture systems - the rich countries will produce
staple foods for the world's 6 billion plus people, and developing countries
will grow cash crops like tomato, cut flowers, peas, sunflower, strawberries
and vegetables. The dollars that developing countries earn from exporting
these crops will eventually be used to buy foodgrains from the developed
nations - in reality, back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence.
Take the case of
Central America. The debt crisis that inflicted the Central American
countries in the 1980s, was very conveniently used as the right opportunity
to shift the cropping pattern to non-traditional exports. Aided and
abetted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),
farmers were lured to the illusion of greener pastures in the developed
world. They shifted to crops like melons, strawberries, cauliflower,
broccoli and squash that were shipped to the supermarkets, mainly in
America. In turn, these Central American countries disbanded cultivation
of staple crops like corn and bean, and have now become major importers
and that too from the United States.
In India, which
has only three decades back emerged from the shadows of massive food
imports, the strategy is the same. World Bank/IMF have forced successive
governments to adopt policies that forces farmers to abandon staple
crops like wheat, rice and coarse cereals, and diversify to cash crops.
Punjab, the country's food bowl, is presently engaged in a desperate
effort to shift from wheat-rice cropping pattern to cultivating cut
flowers and the likes. Andhra Pradesh, in south India, has already embarked
on a misplaced rural development vision that aims at industrial agriculture
at the cost of its millions of small and marginal farmers. As if this
alone is not enough, biotechnology companies are being doled out with
State largesse and prime real estate so as to encourage corporate farming.
What the developed
countries therefore are trying to sell to the world as "development
round" following the undemocratic conclusions arrived at Doha 2001,
is in reality a political exercise (under the garb of trade and commerce)
for their own economic development. Through a variety of instruments,
the rich countries have ensured complete protectionism. Whether it is
the special safeguards, reduction in tariffs, removal of non-tariff
barriers, the developed countries have manipulated the commitments in
a way that suit their own narrowly conceived objectives. Trade policies
therefore have remained highly discriminatory against the developing
agriculture has so far enjoyed a unique 'special and differential' treatment
that was actually reserved for the developing and least developed countries.
The impeccable wall that has been built since the days of the Uruguay
Round, is not so easy to impregnate. Unfortunately, the developing countries
are making no concerted effort to demolish the wall of protectionism
that the rich and industrialised countries have thrown around their
highly subsidised agriculture. Even the G-21, in the final stages, was
busy working out a compromise formula to save the Cancun Ministerial
from going the Seattle way. Little realising, that there is no way such
a bad agreement on agriculture can be reformed.
For millions of
toiling farmers in the majority world, the failure of Cancun Ministerial
does not signal the end of the evil. It is merely a stop in their long
and arduous battle to retain control over their own food security needs,
to protect their own livelihoods from the trade robbers, and to move
towards a sustainable farming model that survives on equity and justice.
For a few million farmers on either side of the Atlantic, the cause
is no different. Only the scale and home turf is different. Developed
country farmers have much in common with the poor farmers in the Third
World. What the WTO however has successfully managed is to pit the farmers
of the developing world and the industrialised countries against each
other. Unless farmers' association in the developed countries comes
to the rescue of their less blessed cousins in the developing world,
agribusiness companies will continue to have the last laugh.
does not mean that the big players will make any significant cuts in
their subsidy support. The new EU Common Agricultural Policy reform
proposals that have been announced prior to the Cancun WTO Ministerial
have also made no attempt to make radical changes in reduction commitments.
Moving on US lines, it has shifted most of the 'blue box' subsidies
to 'green box'. Although the developed countries have blamed the G-21
for 'asking the moon', the fact remains that the western countries have
got too used to being a parasite on the developing countries. The plight
of the farming community, following the Marrakesh agreement - from Chile
to South Korea, and from India to Brazil - has failed to move the industrialised
countries to bring in any meaningful reforms in international trade.
suicide by the Korean farmer Lee Kyung-hae amplifies the devastation
that WTO has wrought on the farming communities all over the world.
Not listening to the voice of the marginalized and the poor, a majority
of them actively involved with farming, will not only be suicidal but
can be catastrophic for the powers that be. The message from Lee's sacrifice
is loud and clear. Not listening to the growing discontent and frustration
that prevails on the farm front, exacerbated through the trade reforms,
will only globalise anger.
'Morgan, the Pirate'
too had underestimated the power of peoples' anger.
is a distinguished food and trade policy analyst. Among his recent works
include two books GATT to WTO: Seeds of Despair and In the Famine Trap.
He also chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food
Security. Responses can be mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org)