Food Rights vs Corporations


05 December 2013

The battle lines couldn’t be clearer at the WTO today – do you think ‘free trade’ is the answer to the world’s problems or must trade come second to a government’s ability to control its food system?

This morning India held a packed press conference at which its lead negotiator didn’t mince his words. He told a room of the world’s press:

“We have not come here as petitioners to beg for a peace clause. We will not compromise the right to food. It in incredible that we can be condemned, by those who have signed the Millennium Development Goal to end world hunger, for speaking up for the poorest people on the planet.”

Global media is presenting this is as a case of India vs. the world. But at the press conference this morning we were told “the countries with us represent two-thirds of the world’s population.”

In the speeches made to the plenary yesterday India’s stand for a permanent solution to this problem (rather than the temporary ceasefire or ‘peace clause’ being put forward by the WTO leadership) was vocally supported by a wide range of countries including South Africa, Egypt, Uganda, Argentina and Ecuador. Moreover, the campaign groups here from across the world have signed public letters supporting India’s stance.

It is stridently opposed by the US and EU.

What comes out of Bali is now being negotiated in private rooms. We know countries are having their arms twisted. Yesterday Cuba and Venezuela called for the package of measures which supports the Least Developed Countries to be passed immediately to prevent it being used as a bargaining chip to get impoverished countries behind the US and EU position. Of course this is being ignored.

The EU, and especially the UK trade minister, is pushing extremely hard for the passing of its trade facilitation package which is about speeding up and standardising customs procedures. The widely reported quote that this would add $1 trillion to the world economy has been widely derided (the Indian Ambassador told us this morning that this had shot up from $50 billion when Pascal Lamy put it forward several years ago).

What’s more this will be more expensive to implement the poorer the country, as rich countries already have these procedures in place. Nonetheless, the rich world would still have us believe this is all about helping African farmers sell their tomatoes across borders.  

If the rich countries of the world were really interested in the ‘poor of the world’ their choice would be clear: support the right of countries like India to realise the right to food, immediately strengthen and pass the Least Developing Countries package, and the drop the unnecessary trade facilitation package. The fact that they won’t, makes clear who interests they are protecting.

Photo: Transnational Institute

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