The Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations has just published a dossier (23p) entitled: « Agriculture has the right to protection ». It is available in French on the website: www.swisscoalition.ch/publications . It essentially agrees with our analysis. So we are happy to present here the conclusion, which is a résumé of the document.
Conclusion and résumé
Eight years after the introduction of the Agreement on Agriculture, the damage and aberrations caused by liberalisation can be measured as much in the South as in the North. The liberal formula, based on free trade and the promotion of exports, imposed by Western governments and taken over by the international financial institutions – in particular by the WTO – resulted in failure. This is because they did not fully take into account many of the specific aspects of national and international agricultural markets. Each country or region is influenced by specific conditions which have a strong effect on the means and the costs of production. There is an evident contrast between the heavily subsidised and efficient agricultures in the West and those of the developing countries which are less supported and smaller. But it is clear that the conditions for survival of a local agriculture are not compatible with a liberalised world trade system, whether in a rich or a poor country.
This situation calls for an in-depth study of the function and role that should be given to agriculture in a globalised world, and also of the objectives that should be followed as a priority at national and international levels.
Can agricultural products be considered as merchandise like anything else “sellable”, with rate of return and profit as the only criteria? Or are there boundaries that should not be crossed where agriculture is seen primarily as the means of feeding human beings? Which should come first: the right of free trade or the right of nourishment?
At this moment when agriculture is yet again the object of tense negotiations at the WTO, these questions have led the Coalition of Development Organisations to work out a new position, subtler and better taking into account the complexities of the problems. However, always with the same aim: the emergence of a fair and durable world–wide agriculture. This new position is defined by the four central and complimentary demands already set-out and resumed below:
1. Rural development in the South: over and above production, agriculture plays many other essential roles, from the strengthening of the local economic fabric to the creation of jobs. This is particularly true in the countries which practise an agriculture of subsistence. This is effectively much more intensive in the use of manpower than agriculture for exports and plays a central role in rural development and the elimination of poverty in the country-side. In consequence, the development of internal markets must once again become a priority; the governments of the poor countries must be given back the right to practise truly national agricultural policies, with priority to the protection and support of the small farmer, rural development, the ending of large monopolies in the hands of multinationals and the putting into place of agrarian reforms.
2. The long-term protection of markets in the South against cheap agricultural imports: such a protection can only be guaranteed if the developing countries are allowed to reintroduce customs duties. It is the only weapon financially within their reach. Such a measure could be introduced through the adoption of a “development package”, which would give back to the developing countries the right to protect their agriculture so as to ensure the food supply of their populations.
3. Production control in the North: the removal of export subsidies and surplus dumping on international markets by the industrialised nations is one of the principal conditions which would allow the developing countries to protect their agriculture and be better integrated into the international market and protect their agriculture from unfair competition. The achievement of this objective would need a decrease in agricultural production in the industrialised countries and a price adjustment in relation to production costs on the international and national markets (to obtain profitable prices)
4. Regulation of the world’s agricultural market is imperative for the development of a durable and fair world trade. Priority should be given to the following measures:
- the adoption of multilateral and fair rules of investment and competition, in the cadre of a forum where development and the fight against poverty – rather than trade – would be the priority objectives;
- the substantial improvement of access to the markets of the industrialised nations by the elimination of price walls and progressive tariffs and the reintroduction of the rights of developing countries to protect their agricultural markets at their borders
- the protection of innovations and the rights of farmers, the fair sharing of profits tied to the exploitation of natural resources and the banning of patents on living creatures;
- the stabilisation of the prices of natural resources at a financially rewarding level, through the creation, for example, of a new international regulatory institution;
- the promotion of produce grown while respecting social, ecological “fair trading” standards;
- a substantial increase in technical and financial assistance.
This position has been adopted by the Steering Committee of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations in 2002: Author: Bastienne Joerchel, Lausanne. Email: bjoerchel swisscoalition.ch