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

We first take a quick look at trade negotiations and trade liberalization, placing them in historical context, and looking at some of the recent events most heavily covered in the international media, like the spectacular collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle in 1999 and Cancún in 2003. We look at the key issues behind the controversy: What are the points of difference? Who is for what? What are they against? Who gains?; and Who loses? We also present some short articles that highlight some specific issues:

  • The recent debate over cotton subsidies is an opening to discuss some common misconceptions over issues like subsidies and dumping. (Appendix 2)

  • We use Mexico as a laboratory in which to study the impact of trade agreements on agriculture after the implementation of the North American Free Trade Area. (Appendix 3)

  • We analyze the likely effects in Africa, given where the next generation of trade agreements seems to be headed. (Appendix 4)

To aid the understanding of global food fights, we include some helpful appendices: a timeline of recent trade negotiations in which agriculture played a key (and usually divisive) role; a brief analysis of who really benefits from farm subsidies; a primer on the key players in agricultural trade negotiations; and direct comments from participants in the ongoing debate.

Finally we take a look at a series of alternative policy options for food and agriculture. For the purposes of proposing those alternatives, and for critiquing prevalent policy prescriptions, we must share common goals that can be used as criteria. For this purpose, we postulate that most people, in most countries, would agree that we want a food and agriculture system that:

  • Provides every one of us with adequate, affordable, healthy, tasty and culturally appropriate food.

  • Offers rural peoples in each of our countries the opportunity for a life with dignity, in which they earn a living wage for their labor and have the opportunity to remain in rural areas if they prefer not to migrate to cities.

  • Contributes to broad-based, inclusive economic development at the local, regional and national level.

  • Conserves rural environments and landscapes, and rural-based cultural and culinary traditions, based on the sustainable long-term management of productive natural resources (soils, water, genetic resources and other biodiversity) by rural peoples themselves.

While these goals constitute a yardstick shared by major global public constituencies, like family farm and consumer groups, environmentalists, and food and agriculture unions, they find less resonance among some government officials and the food and agriculture industries. Despite their widely publicized disagreements, which we examine here, most governments still embrace one form or another of market fundamentalist positions on food and agriculture, while public opinion worldwide decries what is happening to our


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