Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Don't Trade Away the Farm: Rebuffed (for Now) in the Global Arena, the U.S. Will Pursue a Divide-and-Conquer Strategy

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Don't Trade Away the Farm: Rebuffed (for Now) in the Global Arena, the U.S. Will Pursue a Divide-and-Conquer Strategy

Article excerpt

The "World Theft Organization," some activists called it. "Pirates of the Caribbean," wrote a Catholic relief group. What did the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun last September, the second of the last three WTO summits to break up in disarray, do to deserve such words? It let the world's richest nations, once again, monopolize its agenda and brazenly demand a deal that would hurt the world's poorest people, particularly farmers. Developing nations and grassroots organizers refused to stand for it, choosing no deal rather than a bad deal.

The coming months are a key time to see whether alliances forged in Cancun will enable fair trade advocates to stand against the Bush administration as, after its WTO setback, it pressures countries one by one to sign onto regional or two-country trade agreements.

The main issue at Cancun was the fate of the developing world's 2.5 billion peasant farmers. Many of these face ruin because the United States, Europe, and Japan heavily subsidize their own farm sectors, causing them to "dump" products below cost and drive down world prices. (In the United States, much of this subsidy benefits agribusiness corporations rather than small farmers.) Farm subsidies are the opposite of foreign aid--and the developed world now pays itself $320 billion a year in farm subsidies, more than six times as much as it spends on development assistance to poor countries.

Developing countries used to protect their farmers by taxing crop imports, but lopsided WTO agreements, and pressure from institutions such as the IMF, have slashed this option in the Third World (while leaving many First World tariffs intact). The WTO promised the Philippines when it joined in 1995 that membership would bring half a million new farm jobs, but the country has actually lost hundreds of thousands such jobs. Mexico, flooded with dumped corn imports under NAFTA, is in a similar bind. "A farmer who is working with the land in Oaxaca [Mexico] knows in his soul what [unfair trade policy] feels like," says Marie Dennis of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

ACROSS THE DEVELOPING world, many people--including very poor people--have a firm understanding of how trade agreements affect their lives, and those people organized themselves enough to make their governments pay some heed in Cancun. …

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