La Via Campesina | 21 August 2023
Call to action: 10 September 2023 – International day of action against the WTO and free trade agreements
20 YEARS SINCE CANCUN: LEE LIVES ON! WE ARE ALL LEE, IN THIS STRUGGLE AGAINST THE WTO AND FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS!
It has been twenty years since the World Trade Organization’s imperialist, neoliberal and neo-colonial free trade policies led to the sacrifice of one of our peasant leaders at the gates of the Ministerial meeting venue in Cancun, Mexico.
Lee Kyung Hae, a small-scale farmer from Korea, took the drastic step of sacrificing himself to protest against the dire situation that thousands of peasants found themselves in after their country embraced the WTO’s free trade policies. In his final moments, he wore a banner around his neck with the words “WTO Kills Farmers.” Lee’s sacrifice brought to the spotlight the plight of all peasants everywhere; the hyper-globalization of the 80s and 90s had a devastating impact on rural communities worldwide, stripping them of their land, livelihoods, and local markets.
Lee Kyung Hae gave his life to voice the concerns of millions of peasants like him, who saw their lives upended as their countries opened up under the banner of market reforms, only to be overwhelmed by fierce international competition from affluent nations flooding their markets with cheap imports, often produced in massive factories and large-scale industrial farms. The WTO spearheaded these efforts to expand and find new markets for transnational corporations and agribusinesses centered in the wealthy cities of the global north.
Two decades have passed since that tragic day in Cancun, and things have only worsened for both people and the planet.
The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), which forms the core of the WTO’s food and agriculture trade policies, continues to wreak havoc on people’s lives. Over the past 30 years, La Via Campesina has consistently highlighted the negative and devastating effects of WTO policies on both people and the planet. Whenever the WTO convened its ministerial meetings to advance these harmful policies, La Via Campesina’s organized peasant groups took to the streets to expose its falsehoods and deceit. As the World Trade Organization subsequently entered a state of limbo, numerous regional and bilateral free trade agreements began to proliferate, with many of them resembling the highly detrimental Agreement on Agriculture. Thus, whether with or without the WTO, global trade remains entangled in these opaque agreements, frequently negotiated behind closed doors without public consultation or debates.
During the last Ministerial meeting in Geneva in 2022, La Via Campesina declared that the time had come to dismantle the WTO, discard the Agreement on Agriculture, put an end to harmful free trade agreements and establish a new trade framework for global agricultural trade based on principles of food sovereignty, solidarity, and internationalism. A new framework that respects and upholds the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP)!
It called on World Trade Organization member states, particularly those from the Global South, to lead the charge in creating this framework and establishing it as the bedrock of global trade. The global food crisis, resulting in increasing global hunger, exacerbated by speculative commodity trading practices, pandemics, conflicts and wars, is glaring evidence of a flawed global food system that primarily benefits transnational agribusiness. Numerous reports have highlighted how, even in the face of growing global hunger, a handful of large agribusiness corporations continued to accumulate profits through speculative practices. The Agreement on Agriculture serves as a pact to secure perpetual profits for agribusinesses, disregarding the suffering of peasants, individuals, and the environment.
For this reason, as we commemorate the International Day of Action against the WTO and Free Trade Agreements on September 10th, La Via Campesina will intensify this struggle for an alternative. We will lead the effort to construct this new framework through direct involvement of peasants and numerous other small-scale food producers. We will collaborate with our governments and civil society partners to generate political pressure in support of this new paradigm.
As members of La Via Campesina prepare for the 8th International Conference scheduled for December 2023 in Bogota, we call upon all our members to express solidarity with Lee Kyung Hae and his sacrifice. We encourage our members to organize exhibitions, public discussions, protests, and to formulate ideas for an alternative global trade framework. During the 8th International Conference in Bogota, we will commemorate Lee with a mistica, celebrating his courage and defiance and honoring the endeavors and sacrifices of millions of peasants around the world who persist in nourishing the planet and feeding the people, despite mounting challenges.
In the next few days, we will be releasing an official poster that can be adapted and used in your local and regional mobilizations and actions. The official poster and other materials, will soon be available in this link. Check back in a few days. For queries and press interviews, write to firstname.lastname@example.org