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Draft Paper – Not to be cited without author’s permission


Box 1. Agriculture is Gumming Up the Works: Key Recent Events53

A lot of media attention, public debate, and protest has been focused on trade negotiations in recent years, especially surrounding the series of key events summarized here. It is notable among all the controversy and failed summits, how central a role in gumming up the works has been played by differences over agricultural trade issues. Food and agriculture have proven to be the most significant stumbling blocks along the way to re-structuring the global trading system.

1994—NAFTA enters into effect

January 1, 1994, marked the entry into effect of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), a treaty that integrates the economies of Canada, the US and Mexico. In many ways NAFTA is the model trade agreement, including, as do other agreements, directly trade-related issues like import tariffs and quotas, but also many less directly trade related issues like investment, and competition between domestic and foreign firms. NAFTA is the model of what the US and the EU are seeking—but have not yet achieved—in the World Trade Organization (WTO), of what the US wants from the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and of what the US has achieved in more recent bilateral and regional agreements with Chile, Central America (CAFTA), and others. NAFTA is often considered to be the ‘laboratory’ in which to study the anticipated effects of agreements that are still being negotiated (WTO, FTAA) or have just been signed (CAFTA). While NAFTA did open Mexico to a wave of foreign investment, it has been its negative impacts on rural peoples that have most thrown trade liberalization into question. Most spectacularly, January 1st, 1994 was also marked by the rebellion of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, who called NAFTA “a death sentence to the indigenous people of México” because of its anticipatedconsequences for poor farmers.

1999—The WTO Seattle Ministerial

The 3rd Ministerial of the WTO was held in Seattle in 1999, and saw massive demonstrations with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets against the policies of the WTO. This was the key event that put the issue of the impacts on globalization in the public eye. The Ministerial was to supposed to launch negotiations to renew the Agreement on Agriculture and intellectual property rights (essentially extending US-style patents and copyrights around the world), among other topics, but the talks collapsed as the combined result of differences between the US and EU on agriculture, between the North and the South on issues of the transparency of the process itself as well as differences on agriculture and intellectual property (in fact 77 countries walked out on the last day), and the street demonstrations.


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