"WTO OUT OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD" JUNK WTO!
A POSITION PAPER OF THE COALITION OF AGRICULTURAL
Food is essential to life and a basic human right. It should not be treated like any other commodity. Almost 90% of agricultural products are consumed domestically and only 10% are traded internationally, yet the World Trade Organization (WTO) and neo-liberal policies interfere and enforce rules on the 90% consumed domestically.
The WTO, through the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) that tilts heavily in favour of developed countries, has intensified the crisis in Third World agriculture. It basically allows rich countries to maintain their huge domestic farm supports and export subsidies. Developed countries and their transnational corporations (TNCs) push for further agricultural liberalization, arguing that they need access to Third World markets if they are required to cut down on their generous farm subsidies.
The AoA has forced underdeveloped countries to open their markets to foreign corporations that exploit this opportunity by dumping their products which depress farmgate prices. This has resulted in widespread bankruptcy and indebtedness of small farmers, the displacement of millions of farmers and peasants, loss of land and livelihood, depressed income, increased poverty, hunger and even suicides in the countryside.
Agricultural workers are on the losing end because the agricultural sector suffers from competition due to the subsidized and highly mechanized integrated industrial agriculture of developed countries. The agricultural labour force represents the largest single occupational group with over 40% of the world's workforce. With the impact of globalisation, agriculture has been transformed into a largely unprotected sector of the economy in many national contexts.
The impact of falling prices has been and continues to be borne by agricultural workers. Wages of agricultural workers are on a downward slide because the burden of global food and agriculture liberalization is passed on in the form of lower wages, loss of benefits, insecurity of employment, and erosion of labour rights. Agribusiness and TNCs exploit the situation by forcing workers to accept exploitative terms otherwise threatened with loss of jobs.
Worse off are the agricultural workers in food production of the South, including women, Dalits and migrant workers. They take the biggest brunt because not only the burden of losses are passed on to them but usually the ensuing restructuring exercise of companies leads to: the increasing casualization of labour accompanied by a downsizing in the number of permanent workers; the increasing proportion of women in the category of non-permanent workers; and the increasing recourse to labour contractors and intermediaries.
The neo-liberal policies and market-oriented agricultural trading system promoted by the WTO are destroying subsistence and small farmers and restricting Third World countries from implementing a policy of food self-sufficiency. TNCs, in connivance with local ruling elite, are establishing corporate agriculture, eroding labour rights and further depriving the poor majority of access to food as well as land and resources to produce food.
Only with the assertion of food being an inalienable right of people, communities, and countries, can this vicious circle of poverty and hunger be broken. Third World countries must promote self-sufficiency and limit their dependence on food imports. Genuine land reforms must be implemented to empower farmers, peasants and the marginalized groups. Only then that people's access to food, fair income and livelihood can be assured and defended.
People's lives and livelihoods depend on agriculture and food, so it should not be subjected to the unjust rules of the WTO. Third World countries badly need the protection from dumping, and government subsidies to improve production but WTO firmly opposes this. Unless the trading system is genuinely transformed and fair trade is promoted, trade regimes, whether multilateral, regional or bilateral, have no place in agriculture and food production.
Ensuring food for the people of the world should be the utmost priority but WTO agreements have given priority to export-oriented production, which has resulted in increased poverty and hunger. The demand of the Coalition of Agricultural Workers International to take the WTO out of agriculture remains the correct and just struggle in the face of the systematic attack on Third World agriculture.
We therefore demand:
Living wages for agricultural workers including women and migrants, and access to safe food and decent livelihood;
Security of employment, an end to casualization of labour and the right to receive employment benefits;
Upholding and respect for labour rights and the right to form Trade Unions;
Genuine land reforms to ensure farmers, peasants and marginalized groups who are genuine tillers, must be given back or allocated land for agriculture without threats to their livelihoods;
Governments to provide subsidies to improve domestic production, prevent dumping and impose tariffs so as to protect the livelihood and welfare of people engaged in the agricultural and fishery sectors.
To realize this, to end poverty, hunger and suicides, and to enshrine the principles of food sovereignty in international law, we, the Coalition of Agricultural Workers International, a unique coalition of Peoples Movements, Trade Unions, NGOs and other support networks representing peasants, farmers, agricultural workers, fisherfolk and Dalits, strongly reject agricultural and food liberalization and categorically call for WTO to be out of agriculture and food.