WTO – Out of Agriculture !

Face off at WTO Conference, Argentina

The WTO: since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organisation has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism,

The WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. On this basis and by making use of governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) are seeking to undermine democracy and all of the institutional instruments for defending the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stockholding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

This year, with Macri Inc. in the Casa Rosada (Government House in Argentina), the coup leader Michel Temer in the Palacio del Planalto (the oficial workplace of the president of Brazil), and Brazilian Roberto Azevedo as its Director General, the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from Washington and London, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

During these 20 years of struggle against the WTO, the world’s peoples have resisted its attempt to globalize everything, including the food and agricultural systems, for the benefit of the TNCs. Our struggles have been the biggest impediment to the advance of the WTO, and there is no doubt that La Via Campesina has played a decisive part. Our resistance to market liberalisation under this neoliberal regime has continued since the Uruguay round conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Ever since, La Via Campesina has mobilised against almost all of the Ministerial Conferences since Seattle (1999) and Cancún (2003) – where our brother Lee Kyung Hae, holding a banner declaring that “The WTO kills peasants”, sacrificed his own life – and up to Bali (2013) and Nairobi (2015).

From December 10 to 13, an international delegation of La Via Campesina will be in Buenos Aires to participate actively in multiple mobilisations, forums and debates of the organised people, at the Peoples’ Summit “WTO, Out! – Building Alternatives“. We will denounce the WTO as the criminal organization that it is and will raise our flag of Food Sovereignty. We will denounce all governments, which, after having understood that the WTO had been weakened, resorted to mega free trade agreements, bilateral and regional, that threaten to annihilate our food systems, just as the WTO has done in the last two decades.

Hope’s Edge

Diet for a Small Planet was a 1971 bestseller. It was the first major book to note the environmental impact of meat production as wasteful and a contributor to global food scarcity.

Celebrating the fortieth anniversary of this book, author Frances Moore Lappé stresses how her philosophy remains valid today, and that food remains the central issue through which to understand world politics.

“More than any other this book that taught America the social and personal significance of a new way of eating– one that remains a complete guide for eating well, forty years on. Featuring: simple rules for a healthy diet; a streamlined, easy-to-use format; delicious food combinations of protein-rich meals without meat; hundreds of wonderful recipes, and much more.”

Ten years ago Frances, with daughter Anna, published, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet (2006)

Tying today’s many different food movements together

“If I could somehow orchestrate it all, I would want us to have more of a common theme song, and that theme song has the word “democracy” in it. That we are redefining democracy through activism around food, the most basic of all our needs, linking our diets to the earth and to each other, whether it’s school gardens or anti-GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. I would love to see us always tying it back into what we share, the concept of what I call living democracy.

“I would love to have more of a canopy of hope over all of our work, the hope that we are agents of a deeper practice of democracy that will reclaim our rightful roles as citizens, despite the dominance now of private entities over the public. That’s the tension I live with all the time, between celebration and yearning for that seed, a real voice for regular people.

A recognition of human dignity

“The struggle is not just that everyone has enough nutrients, the struggle is ultimately about whether we all recognize each other as people worthy of a voice, and therefore people with dignity, who are not just recipients, but co-creators. That’s what could unite us: recognizing that this is not just about supply, but about extreme imbalances in our power relationships. We’ve created structures which give such huge numbers of people in the world so little capacity to act in their own interests, and in the common interest.

Links between the food movements and the sharing movements, the commons?

“In Germany, they have sharing centres where if people have too many leftovers, they can just drop off the food. Some of them have significant refrigerators, and anybody can drop off food and anyone can pick it up. Everybody is responsible for themselves. Food waste is such a totally avoidable outrage, and that idea that, of course, we don’t just throw away good food, and making it easy for people to feel good about sharing with others.

Now there are 28 countries in whose Constitution, food is an explicit human right. I think of the city that Anna* and I visited for Hope’s Edge, Belo Horizonte in Brazil, the idea of food as a public good. As the leaders there explained it to us, what has really changed is social mentality, from food as a private good to food as a public good, like education. You realise that an educated people is a benefit to everyone: if your community is educated, of course, everyone benefits.

* Daughter Anna Lappé, also a respected author and educator, is known for her work as an expert on food systems and as a sustainable food advocate.

Democracy’s Edge (2006) [pdf], Frances Moore Lappé

Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet [ePub], Frances Moore Lappé.(2003)