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Free Trade and Agriculture Policies

By: Doyle Canning-Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project www.biodev.org/ / wto@biodev.org


From June 23-25th 2003 the Ministers of Trade, Agriculture and Environment from 180 nations, including all member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO), will meet in Sacramento California at a summit hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), USAID, and the US State Department. An "Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology" will run concurrently with the Ministerial to host multinational agribusiness and biotechnology corporations. This summit, hosted by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, will attract thousands of media outlets from around the world, and will be an important stepping-stone for enshrining the primacy of US interests at the September negotiations of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) in Cancun, Mexico.


This summit gives social and environmental justice movements in North America a unique opportunity to converge, act in solidarity with movements around the world, and to highlight some of the most pressing issues of our time: the threat of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to ecosystems and human health; the ever widening gap between the very rich and very poor; the increasing use of trade agreements to subvert democratic process; and the unchecked power of multinational corporations to lay claim to our food, our farms, and our future.


The Sacramento Ministerial is a strategic moment for social movements concerned with stopping further trade liberalization, the implementation of new trade agreements inside the WTO, and the implementation of a new round of trade agreements including the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The Sacramento Ministerial is a key preparation time for both the September WTO Ministerial in Cancun and the Summit of the Americas scheduled for Miami in November. The Sacramento Ministerial presents itself as a rare opportunity to for activists to confront a policy-making session, which will have enormous repercussions on all trade agreements. Without direct opposition, trade policy will continue on its present course-pitted for US corporate interests and against small farmers, ecosystems, and food security in the South--through the Cancun meeting and into Miami.


The Agreement on Agriculture
Agriculture could well be the WTO's Achilles' Heel. A failure to reach agreement on agriculture before the deadline of March 31 could unravel negotiations in other areas like industrial tariffs, the new issues, services, and TRIPs, leading to WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi's great fear: lack of any movement toward consensus prior to the Fifth Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, in mid-September. A heavily bracketed text showing lack of agreement on so many points, WTO bureaucrats know only too well, helped precipitate the Seattle debacle (Bello, 2003).


By all accounts, it is amply clear that agricultural trade liberalization (together with trade liberalization and privatization measures implemented under Structural Adjustment Programs) has indeed harmed small farmers and impoverished the poor further, making them more food insecure. Small and subsistence farmers in developing countries have suffered loss of income and increased bankruptcies, displacement and loss of land and heavy job losses in agriculture. The greater emphasis on growing export cash crops in preference to food crops and the new trade regime has also eroded the food supplies of low-income families in many countries, and families are now reported to be 'eating fewer meals' every day (PANAP, 2002, pp. 9-10). Since its inception at the Uruguay Round, the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) has been a disaster for rural communities and food security the world over.


Because of contentions around subsidies, GMOs, and liberalization's impact on trade in agriculture, the AoA is understood by many analysts as the most volatile element of the current WTO negotiations. The internal discord at the WTO over US and EU subsidies in agriculture, as well as the inharmonious regulations of GMOs, could be the lynchpin to derailing the entire WTO process. USTR Zoelleck has called the EU ban on GMOs "immoral" and Veneman recently proclaimed that "our (USDA's) patience is just running out" (Becker, 2003). But recently an anonymous senior White House official explained that, "There is no point in testing Europeans on food while they are being tested on Iraq" (Becker, 2003).


There is inconsistency in the White House about when the most strategic time to launch the suit is--not about why. Seen by US corporations as "unfair barriers to trade" under WTO rules, the US plans on taking the EU to the Dispute Settlement Body of WTO. Sacramento is essentially a stage to showcase and force the "benefits" of GMOs to Southern nations, show up the EU and condemn its precautionary stance on GMOs, and be leveraged as an instrument for the US to assert its dominance and push for a GMO future in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry.
USAID: Foreign Policy, Trade, and GMOs Primarily financed by USAID


Food aid is becoming the biggest market mechanism for GM foods from the US that have been rejected elsewhere. The undue pressure to import GM corn is not just promoting the dumping of hazardous products that cannot be sold through free markets, the fact that this corn could be contaminated with the Bt Starlink corn amounts to feeding our children and nursing mothers a toxic cattle feed. National Alliance of Women for Food Rights (India) March 7, 2003 USAID, also a co-sponsor of this event, was in the international spotlight last summer for its aggressive use of "food aid" to southern African nations to push GMOs. With the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development as a backdrop, this tool of US agribusiness insisted on dumping whole corn kernels on the famine stricken nations of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi--nations that were forced to chose between GMO foods that were unfit for human consumption, and starvation. They were also being forced to open their markets to GMOs by default, as once these whole kernels hit the ground, they could cross-pollinate and pollute non-GM varieties, as has happened in Oaxaca, Mexico.


USAID, under the guidance of the Bush Administration, also recently launched a new regime of aid and development policy under the rubric of the Millennium Challenge Account. The new policy, "Foreign Aid in the National Interest: Promoting Freedom, Security and Opportunity," was unveiled at the Heritage Foundation in January. This is the "third major foreign aid policy statement since the second world war" (USAID, 2003, p. 1)--the third major policy change since the historic meetings at Bretton Woods at the end of WWII.


[Paraphrasing from the text] The plan works in concert with the IMF and World Bank to outline a policy of granting aid based on compliance with free market reforms. Levels of foreign assistance must be more clearly tied to development performance and to demonstrations of political will for reform and good governance. When leaders demonstrate willingness to undertake and follow through on difficult political and economic reforms, they should receive steady increases in aid from the United States and other donors (and) be rewarded in other tangible ways: with debt relief, with incentives for foreign investment, and with trade liberalization-such as the bilateral free trade agreement recently granted to. The United States should use its voice, vote, and full influence within the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to terminate development assistance to bad governments. The principles of U.S. foreign policy should extend into international development-meaning that international financial institutions should stop financing grossly corrupt (regimes). The United States must work closer with other bilateral donors to coordinate pressure on bad, recalcitrant governments (USAID, 2003, pp. 10-11).


USAID is yet another vehicle for US and corporate interests to further tighten the noose on Southern nations who would think of straying away from colonial relations with the North, hesitate to privatize, or embrace land reform or strong labor and environmental laws. "With private assistance predominating, U.S. official assistance will have to develop stronger partner-ships with the full array of private sources" (USAID, 2003, p.2).


The Healthy Forests Initiative
As debt and hunger continue in the South, structural adjustment and roll backs at home are accelerating under the Bush Administration, the future for our nation's remaining national forests is under siege. Agriculture Secretary Veneman recently hosted a press conference with Gale Norton and President Bush on the so-called "healthy forests initiative," a policy that environmentalists warn is similar to the 1995 logging-without-laws Salvage Rider, which suspended environmental laws and banned pubic participation to allow commercial logging for 'forest health' reasons. However, what we witnessed under the Salvage Rider was ancient old-growth forests and roadless areas falling to the chainsaw...In fact, enough trees were cut from our national forests during the Salvage Rider to fill 800,000 log trucks lined up for over 6,800 miles. Unfortunately, if the Bush Administration gets their way, our public forests will suffer the same consequences, only this time under the guise of 'fuel-reduction' (Koehler, 2002).


The Threat of New GMOs: BioPharms, Wheat, Fish, Trees

Secretary Veneman is a former lawyer for Monsanto, and a key player in the battles over introduction of new GMOs--like GMO wheat, fish, and trees. GMO canola has destroyed the organic and non-GM canola farmers of the Canadian Prairie. Canola, like wheat, has many close wild cousins, and now wild plants have become Round-up resistant "super weeds." Wheat farmers in the Midwest of north America are fighting tooth and nail to stop the commercialization of GMO wheat--as it will cross pollinate with thousands of native grasses, as well as other food grains like barely and oats.


And then there is the push for a boom in so-called BioPharming--the insertion of genetic drug genes into farm crops like corn. The biotech industry says it will save the family farm, but this very technology poses massive risks to the human food supply (the ProdiGene scandal of late 2002 where pharmacrops were harvested from the field along with human food, is a case in point.) The stakes for farmers, and for our ecosystems, have never been higher. Field trials of Genetically Engineered Trees are in hundreds of locations in the United States, and the industry is developing trees that are "Round-up Ready" or have reduced lignin content (the trait that makes trees strong and stiff). While GMO corn pollen can travel by winds or direct seed movement for a few miles, the pollen of trees travels hundreds of miles. And as if that weren't enough, the Bush Administration is seeking approval for the commercialization of GE fish--salmon with super growth hormones. Commercialization of GE insects and mammals isn't far behind.


The State Department, USAID, USDA
The trio sponsoring this biotech bash in California is also actors in the so-called War on Terror. As Colin Powell brandishes teaspoons of make-believe anthrax at the United Nations, USAID's new policy proclaims that the axis-of-good will be rewarded with bilateral trade agreements, and those governments that stray from free market reforms will have US aid cut off. The USDA integrated into the Department of Homeland Security, and Veneman proclaimed her support for the DHS by calling it "bold and visionary∑.the new Department of Homeland Security will enhance the already strong protections we have in place throughout the federal government. It will also ensure a stronger line of defense against potential threats to agriculture and our homeland" (USDA, 2002). The food safety budget of the USDA has increased $42 million dollars, although this is not an appropriation to adequately test GMO foods! USDA has initiated 47 criminal investigations related to counter terrorism and homeland security activities (USDA, 2002).


WTO: The Road to Cancun

Who, then, are the beneficiaries of the new trade regime? Those who hold large resources of land and capital, (including water for agriculture), control supplies of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and manipulate food supplies and prices in the international market. These are mainly Transnational Corporations (PANAP, 2002, p. 12). The WTO meeting in Cancun is a very important target for movements who are fighting for a democratic future. Cancun will see the negotiation of agreements on services (water, health care, and education); agriculture, intellectual property, and the gamut of liberalization that puts corporate profit before all else. While the discord over the war in Iraq steals the headlines, the trade war over GM, agriculture, and market access between the EU and the US is brewing and will unfold in Sacramento and Cancun.


And then there's the looming FTAA, and the fast track to CAFTA, where the Bush Administration will press for broad liberalization in market access for goods and services, including e-commerce; the elimination of non-tariff barriers; science-based food inspection systems; strong protections for intellectual property and for investors; increased transparency in government regulation and procurement; strengthened capacity to protect workers and the environment; and meaningful dispute settlement mechanisms (USTR, 2003).


Sacramento gives us an opportunity that we can't afford not to embrace. It is a moment to claim political space and to tell the world that the hungry must have food, that we will build democracy and economic justice, and we will reclaim an ecological future. It is a moment to indict neo-liberalism and to struggle for humanity. It is a moment we cannot ignore.


No GMOs! No more hunger! Real Security is Food Security! No WTO!


Sources:
Official Site: http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/stconf/conf_main.htm
Corporate Exhibitor Site: http://www.exhibitpro.com/ministerial/
USDA press release on Sacramento: http://www.biodev.org/archives/000027.php


Works Cited:
AgAnswers (March 4, 2003)"HORSEWEED HIGHTAILING IT FROM HERBICIDE CONTROL" http:www.aganswers.net


Becker, E. (Feb 5, 2003) "U.S. Delays Suing Europe Over Ban on Modified Food" The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/05/international/europe/05TRAD.html


Koehler, M (2002) Native Forest Network Statements Regarding President Bush's "Healthy Forest Initiative" http://www.nativeforest.org/press_room/release_8_22_02.htm


Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (2002) Empty Promises: Empty Stomachs: Impact of the Agreement on Agriculture and Trade Liberalization on Food Security. PANAP: Penang, Malaysia.


US Embassy India (20 December 2002) Senators Urge WTO Dispute Case Against EU Biotech Policy, http://www.usembassy.it/file2002_12/alia/a2122004.htm


USDA (2002) Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman Regarding the Creation of a Department of Homeland Security www.usda.gov/biosecurity. Release No. 0006.02


USDA press release on Sacramento: http://www.biodev.org/archives/000027.php


USTR (January 8, 2003) United States and Central American Nations Launch Free Trade Negotiations" http://www.ustr.gov/releases/2003/01/03-01.htm