Trade versus Development?
Food is Different: Why we must get the WTO out of Agriculture
Trade Negotiations and Trade Liberalization 2. The Impact of Liberalized Agricultural Trade 5. Peter Rosset is a food rights activist and agro-ecologist. Rosset Why does our global food system give us expensive, unhealthy and bad-tasting food, where we pay more for packaging and long-distance shipping than we do for the food itself?
Food is Different: We must get the WTO out of Agriculture
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If these barriers could only be removed, businesses should benefit by being able to take advantage of low costs, workers should benefit because new jobs are created and consumers should benefit from increased competition. Unfortunately, however, even if it is correct, this logic alone is insufficient. For the theoretical gains of free trade to actually be realised, a large number of preconditions must be fulfilled. Among these are that, either in establishing treaties or in negotiating particular agreements within them, there should not be significant disparities of negotiating power or expertise between negotiating parties.
Yet such imbalances commonly occur between businesses and national governments or even between individual governments. Equally, corruption or democratic deficits should not undermine the ability of governments to represent the interests of those such as small businesses, workers, farmers or women who are typically underrepresented at international levels.
In practice, these criteria are never met, even in the best-run countries. In many cases, these criteria are so far out from equilibrium that negotiations are carried on in secret and only certain special interests are fully represented.
Nowhere is this more true than in farming. As a result, and this also happens in the manufacturing sector, multinational corporations typically play against each other less-developed countries offering barely discernible combinations of low pay and freedom to operate and farmers with less than one acre have to compete against Dole, Monsanto and Cargill. And even this disparity of power does not do justice to the mismatch.
Traders in international commodities, for example, can shop around for subsidised produce and commodities and with these displace from their markets farmers who are not subsidised. Scenarios such as this are not supposed to occur and, in theory at least, WTO and other agreements include built-in safeguards and punitive measures, against subsidies for example.
- Te Amo (The Te Amo Trilogy, Book 1).
- Easy Portuguese Recipes.
- Are agricultural subsidies causing more harm than good?;
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- La sinfonia delle cose mute (Scrittori italiani e stranieri) (Italian Edition).
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In practice however, these safeguards are often inadequate. For example, one tactic favoured by Europe and the US has been to evade anti-subsidy stipulations by constructing elaborate and costly but usually legal ways to support their farmers and other industries that are beyond the budget of most countries.
Rocks and Hard Places
And when infringements of the rules, such as dumping, do occur, they are often hard to prove and require lengthy and expensive legal actions to achieve redress. Thus, even though they may superficially appear fair, trade agreements have for the most part benefited big countries at the expense of small ones and rich countries at the expense of poor ones. Despite the fact that these problems are much more obvious in developing countries where typically more than half the population are small farmers many governments of less-developed countries have only recently started to negotiate harder for a better deal and consequently WTO negotiations have now stalled, principally because of agriculture-related issues.