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Saturday Feature
 
WTO Ministerial Meet in Hong Kong
Corporate agriculture vs peasants' agriculture
10/22/2005
 

          World Trade Organisation (WTO) has called yet another of its Ministerial Meet in Hong Kong on December 13-18, 2005 for the sixth time in its attempt to strike a multilateral deal on international trade. It needs to be remembered that consecutively last two of these meetings ended without any common declaration on trade issues. In Hong Kong this time the market access of Agriculture, Service sectors, and NAMA (Non Agriculture Market Access) are included in the discussion. Among these, agriculture will get the prime focus in this discussion. For the upcoming Ministerial Meet in Hong Kong, We devise our campaign "Our Agriculture is Our Life" in Bangladesh to spotlight the challenge the agriculture and the peasants of our country face.
The term "agro-business" is misleading. It unmasks that trade in agriculture is in a big wily nothing but trade in food. It thereby attempts to reduce "food" merely into a tradable commodity. Till date only a small proportion of food is internationally traded. Food in most of the countries is primarily produced and consumed locally and only 10 percent are internationally traded.
Although, the term trade in agriculture may portray an image that through trade in agro products millions of the farmers across the globe are taking active part in international trade and reaping its benefits, the reality is completely reverse.
*According to a study, in 1986 only five big Tics controlled 85-90 per cent of the total trade in agriculture.
* 75 per cent of the flourishing trade in cereal (rice, wheat, maize etc) is controlled by only two TNCs (namely Cargill and ADM).
* 40 per cent of global coffee trade is controlled by four of the TNCs.
Thus contrary to the popular belief, the existing trade in agriculture does not benefit the millions of poor farmers rather serves the economic interests of only a hand few of giant transitional companies (TNCs).
Withdrawal of agricultural subsidies and reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers are the stated objectives of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) of WTO. Thus discussions on AoA usually hover around:
* Withdrawal of subsidy versus the mystery of amber and green boxes; and
* Access to market versus the prevalence of market obstacles
In Bangladesh 60 per cent of its population earn livelihood from agriculture. However, 80 per cent of this farming population is small farmers with less than two and a half acres of land. Although AoA does not take over any new commitment of reduction in tariff it has subjected them to tariff binding. It also has an agenda of reduction in agricultural subsidy both export and domestic. It should be noted that through the structural Adjustment programme already LDCs such as Bangladesh is less than one percent of its GDP. The aggregate measure of support (AMS) to agriculture declined to only .67 in 2001-02 from 1.54 in 1995-96. At the same time, agro-subsidy in developed economies remains astronomically higher.
AoA locked-in countries like Bangladesh within these uneven terms of trade. Moreover, AoA categorises all the new attempts of LDCs to extend subsidy (such as on imputs etc.) to its poor peasants as trade distorting, -- as violations of AoA. WTO vehemently opposes these types subsidies provided by the LDCs. According to AoA this type of subsidy is placed in 'amber box' which should certainly be abandoned!
By manipulating the boxes of AoA, the big economies are continuously violating their promises of reducing subsidy along with the non tariff market obstacles. While the LDCs have liberalised their markets, the rich Countries like United States of America and European Union continue to extend huge subsidies to their agriculture under the pretext of 'blue box' and 'green box'.
Food is all integral part of human rights not merely an item in trade basket. This is clearly reflected in the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR). When the livelihood concerns of 2.5 billion people involved ill agriculture across the globe is considered it becomes clear that agriculture involves non-trade concerns of promotion and protection of livelihoods. Moreover, being an instrument of trade AoA has little obligation to environmental concerns while agriculture is an integral part of our ecological balance and sustainability. Last but not the least for billions of people of the world agriculture is note merely a means of livelihood but a way of life- all unalienable element of cultural identity.
Moreover, AoA works along with the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards and TRIPs not only to further restrict market access of small farmers but also to strengthen the process of:
* Bio-piracy
* Promotion of ecologically unsustainable agriculture
* Loss of farmers' rights over seeds
* Promotion of GMO
* Decline of women's role ill agriculture
The ministers of the LDCs should be called upon to adopt the following modalities of "food first approach" in negotiations regarding trade in agriculture:
* Call on WTO to Develop human rights framework to audit and control dominance of transnational corporations (TNCs) and to ensure conformity of AoA to the human rights charters and environmental concerns.
* Rights and obligations of the state-parties to food security and livelihood must be upheld over and at trade negotiations.
* Interests of the small farmers have to be upheld over and above the agro-business TNCs.
The ministers of the LDCs should put forward proposals so that:
* The rules of AoA boxes must be treated null in relation to provision and promotion of subsidies for the small farmers of LDCs aimed at protecting and promoting rights to food and livelihood.
* Technical and financial assistance for LDCs for promotion of sustainable agriculture should be a core component of AoA along with the technical and institutional capacity building supports for meeting various standards,
* The LDC must have duty free-preferential market access without the hidden barriers (NTB and discriminatory standards); especially to the markets of the developed countries.
* Elimination of export subsidies including that on cotton by the developed economies.
* Impact assessment before further compliance and consideration of any new proposal of liberalisation for LDCs.
The main message of INCIDIN Bangladesh campaign is, "Our agriculture is our life". This is just the beginning of our campaign journey and it Will Continue Lip to December's ministerial meet. Along with it the other activities we have started, conducting six farmers' consultations in six old districts of the country, collecting signatures across the country and arranging rally, organising peasants gatherings and facilitating an agriculture commission.
Because we believe that, the peasant leadership should be included in international level to discuss the agriculture issues. The discussion without the participation of the peasant representative will be a fragmented discussion. Apart from peasant/farmer, who else knows better -the problem of agriculture? In this regard Our urge to our government:
A) The voices of the farmers Must b(2~ heard before the government takes a stand on agriculture in Hong Kong. In this respect INCIDIN, Bangladesh has taken an initiative to collect opinions from the peasants of Bangladesh to help the government. The people's paper on agriculture will be handed over to the concerned authority.
B) We believe that without including the peasant representatives in the trade delegation our country will not be fully represented in Hong Kong. We call on the government to include true small farmers' representatives in the delegation.
INCIDIN Bangladesh welcomes any negotiation regarding agriculture within AoA to ensure its congruency with the charters of human rights and to facilitate expansion of market access and livelihoods of small farmers. We believe that essentially agriculture is unalienable from "rights to food, livelihood and sustainable environment" and thus in agenda of human rights.

By courtesy of INCIDIN Bangladesh

The Dumping in Rice
* Estimation projects a stable level of support for tile US rice sector of close to $1.2bn a year until 2007.
* The value of rice produced, which in 2002 was $844m.
* These excessive levels of support allow large US companies to dump rice on international markets.
* US exported 'paddy' rice to Central America 18-20 per cent lower than its cost of production.


Secret of US Cotton Export
In 2001, the 25,000 US cotton growers received roughly $3.9 billion in subsidy payments, for producing 'a cotton crop that was worth only US$ 3 billion at world market prices,
* One Arkansas cotton grower received US $ 6 million, equal to the combined annual earnings of 25,000 cotton farmers in Mali.
* The US farm bill has Increased subsidies by $ 82 billion. With these subsidies, the US has doubled cotton exports and destroyed the livelihoods and incomes of 250 million African cotton farmers.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including Food, clothing, housing and medical care.


Facts on the Rigged Rules of Trade
* In the first year of the agreement, there were tariff peaks at very high rates in tile United States (e.g., sugar 2440/0, peanuts 1740/()); the EEC (beef 213%, wheat 168%). According to the agreement, developed countries needed to reduce their tariffs by only 36 per cent on average to the end of 2000, and thus the rates for some products remain prohibitively high!
* The agreement committed developed countries to reduce the budget outlay for export subsidy by 36 per cent and the total quantity of exports covered by the subsidies by 21 per cent. Thus, even in the year 2000 the level of export subsidies was allowed as high as 64 per cent of the base level.
* In 1997, during the formulation stage of agriculture treaty, the agriculture subsidy provided by tile rich countries was 31%). But after passing six years implementation of the treaty, in 2001, the subsidy increased up to 400/0,
* European Union instead of reducing the total agriculture subsidy Increased subsidy approximately 36% by juggling subsidies within blue box and green box.
* By being price distorting, the Blue Box is the most trade distorting aspect of WTO. However, Blue Box measures have not been reduced rather being expanded by the developed economics
* Decoupled income support and direct payments applied by the developed economics continues to aid the bigger economics and namely the TNCs to make super profits by buying cheap commodities from farmers.
It is important to note that even in the developed economies the state supports and subsidies 'are mainly going to a hand few of big farmers and private companies. Thus these unfair trade practices are destroying the small farmers all over the world.

 

 
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