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Free Trade Agreements are Failed Trade Agreements. An alternative is now urgent and necessary

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La Via Campesina | 26 February 2024

Free Trade Agreements are Failed Trade Agreements. An alternative is now urgent and necessary

The World Trade Organization will commence its 13th Ministerial Meeting in Abu Dhabi this week. The neoliberal globalization that it has enabled over the last three decades has systematically deregulated agricultural sectors across the world and dismantled minimum intervention prices, public stocks, supply management tools and import barriers. It has also propped up an industrial food system that has generated an unprecedented crisis around the world – both for the people and the planet.

The evidence of how this economic system has marginalized small-scale food producers is best exemplified in this data coming from the United States, the birthplace of this industrial food system. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s census in 2022, reveals that nearly 5 million farms have disappearedin the country in the past century. Among the primary reason of this disappearance has been the withdrawal of inflation-adjusted price support, beginning in 1953. Small farms needed to get bigger to make up for lower prices, or simply vanish.

This neoliberal economic model of agriculture is not confined to the US anymore. Through free trade agreements and the WTO’s highly problematic Agreement on Agriculture, it has been exported to other parts of the world. In every continent of the world, it has led to a violent appropriation of land, water, and territories, which dispossesses people, devastates the planet and its biodiversity, and generates an unprecedented climate crisis.

This expansion is also neo-colonial. Research points out that thetriad of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization has enabled a resource drain through structural adjustment programs and free trade agreements. Today, the Global North drains commodities worth $2.2 trillion per year, from the South. For perspective, that amount of money would beenough to end extreme poverty globally fifteen times over.

Despite mounting evidence, these institutions remain oblivious to the fact that inequality and unemployment levels have reached staggering levels worldwide. Hunger and malnutrition are now aggravated by internal strife and war within and among countries – again, the result of a scramble for the planet’s fast-dwindling resources. Food prices and food inflation in most countries are pushing more people into hunger. Farm input costs are rising, whereas peasant farmers are not fetching prices that allow them to stay afloat, increasing rural debt.

As a result, in just the last 12-15 months, protests have broken out in at least 65 countrieswhere peasant farmers are demanding better prices for their produce, market regulation, price support, procurement and supply management programs.

Since the beginning of this year, peasant farmers in Europe have been staging mass mobilizations demanding an end to this ‘free trade regime’ that has failed the people and propped up more billionaires. At the time of preparing this statement, Indian peasant farmers who led a massive agitation for 13 months in 2020 are once again hitting the streets – demanding better prices for their produce. In Mexico, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Thailand, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Korea, Kenya, Benin, and several other countries, people are revolting against a system that has impoverished the majority while helping a select few prosper.

It is also important to state here that the climate crisis, a byproduct of this model of economic growth, is also a crisis of inequalities. If wealth were distributed more equally, all people could live in dignity without having to overuse the earth’s resources. Instead, WTO rules are increasing the wealth and power of a little oligarchy (in the North and South) linked to TNCs against the 99% of the world’s peoples, putting the entire humanity in danger.

The regime of free trade agreements – negotiated bilaterally, regionally, or through the WTO – also limits governments in the Global South and North, even those who are willing, to implement any form of domestic welfare support for their people. Citing WTO rules and legal clauses in countless other free trade agreements, the guardians of industrial agriculture (in the North and South) interfere and block such measures. They consider domestic support, market regulation, and public procurement programs as trade-distorting and limiting market access to agribusiness corporations – thus calling a violation of the ‘rules-based order’. Whose rules? Rules for whom? This is not a rules-based order anymore but a might-based order – where those immersed in financial capital decide for the rest of the world.

But things are changing. WTO rules – once a powerful constraint on development policy space – are no longer legally enforceable, as the appellate body for dispute settlement remains in limbo. But this state of limbo has also allowed countries to use it to their advantage to bring in development policies that allow them to cater to the needs of their people first.

The dysfunctionality of the WTO in arriving at a permanent solution on public food stocks or special safeguard mechanisms is now threatening it into irrelevance. We welcome this dysfunctionality! It is the inevitable end that awaits this rigged system. The WTO and the current system of global trade must come to an urgent halt. And an alternative must emerge.

An alternative is coming, join us!

La Via Campesina has embarked on the mammoth task of building a global framework for trade between countries, built on the principles of food sovereignty, solidarity, cooperation, and internationalism, where land, water, seeds, and territories are not mere commodities.

We are building a framework that would help us overcome the social and ecological crises confronting the world today. One in which, the right for each country to determine their own agricultural and food policies and protect and support its local food system through measures of market regulation (such as minimum support prices, public stocks, supply management, or minimum entry prices), in particular in order to stabilize agricultural prices over the costs of production and to fight against speculation.

One that ensures that no country be excluded against its will from international trade in agricultural commodities, food, and agricultural inputs. One that guarantees that the international trade in agricultural inputs must be regulated in order to reduce countries’ dependence on these inputs and to move towards peasant agroecology. One where international trade is not subject to geopolitical pressures. The framework would ensure that dumping and export subsidies for agricultural and food products are prohibited.

One that would guarantee that the rules of international trade are based on the highest standards of human rights, such as the right to food, UNDROP and UNDRIP, and ILO rules for the respect of workers’ rights. It would defend the rights of agricultural workers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, migrant workers, and other food system workers and support the establishment of living wage programs for urban and rural workers that will be indexed to inflation. It must ensure that food may never be used as a weapon of war in international conflicts.

It is a framework that should guarantee all this and more, making our societies more equitable and just. It must become the guideline against which all the existing and new free trade agreements are referenced against. All those agreements, existing and new, that fail to comply would evidently be failing the people – and hence must be suspended.

La Via Campesina is calling all our members, allied social movements, civil society organizations, and friends in academia and policy spaces – including those in governments – to join us in this effort of building a framework that can help build a fair system of trade, rooted in principles of food sovereignty and social justice.

As the WTO commences its 13th Ministerial Meeting with the hope of saving itself from irrelevance, we insist that all governments frustrated by its dysfunctionality join us in building an alternative. We will build this framework through patient consultations and advocacy with all our communities. This journey must begin now with no time to waste to ensure the future security and enjoyment of life for humanity.

Sign up to the idea of building an alternative. Add your details here

Faced with the Global Crises, We Build Food Sovereignty, to ensure a future for humanity!

WTO out of Agriculture! A new trade framework NOW!

#EndWTO #FoodSovereigntyNOW #MC13

La Via Campesina

 source: La Via Campesina