WITH growing impatience, the world waits for the European
Community and the United States to resolve their differences on
farm-trade reforms under the current Uruguay round of talks.
Meanwhile, calls from some developing countries for fair trade in
agriculture have largely gone unheeded.
Sadly, the marathon dispute over farm trade is overshadowing the
plight of food exporters from developing countries such as
Zimbabwe. Until this year's drought, the worst in southern Africa
this century, Zimbabwe had been regarded as the region's food
basket, exporting an average of half a million tons of maize a year.
Back in 1986, while sitting on a huge grain stockpile, the
country struggled with its surplus, unable to off-load it on the
world market because of low prices, thanks to food dumping by
heavily subsidized European farmers. Zimbabwe's mounting stockpiles
led to the twin problems of storage and marketing.
Defying the odds against it, the government embarked on a
rigorous marketing campaign. Food was exported to neighboring
countries, including Mozambique, Botswana, Tanzania, and sometimes
South Africa. This was achieved despite fierce competition from
international aid agencies that were bringing food aid all the way
from the US and Europe. Penetrating other overseas markets was a
daunting task for Zimbabwe, because of protectionist trade
practices. Hopes that international relief agencies would purchase
substantial amounts of food as donations for famine-stricken
African countries proved futile. These agencies refused requests to
buy Zimbabwean grain, which not only would have helped the country
dispose of its stockpiles but also could have reduced donor
A world glut and the preference of aid agencies to purchase
supplies from their home countries resulted in lower exports from
this southern African country. Frustrated by what it considered an
unfair trade system, Zimbabwe sought other options. In 1990 it
slashed grain production by 50 percent and offered incentives to
farmers to grow more profitable crops such as tobacco.
To the extent that net food exporters from the third world would
be compelled to abide by decisions reached under the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks on farm trade, their
efforts to achieve food security are likely to remain a distant
goal, making them perpetually dependent on outside food. Export
subsidies in the North create mountains of food that are then
off-loaded on the international market at knock-down prices,
destroying the viability of agriculture in poor countries. Even
when prices pick up, tariffs and nontariff barriers protect
northern farmers from foreign competition.
Dumping practices and protectionist trade policies have imposed
enormous burdens on the ability of developing economies to sustain
agricultural industries and increase earnings from this sector.
Ironically, by driving down food prices on world markets subsidies
have also depressed producer prices in industrialized countries and
prompted calls for more subsidies. In contrast with subsidies by
the North, third-world government support programs are meant to
achieve food self-sufficiency. …