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U.S. Trade Position on Agriculture for WTO Doha Round Will Hurt Small Farmers

October 2005

Yesterday, the US released its trade position for the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong in December. The US plan calls for deep subsidy cuts for the US and the European Union. Yet, the cuts rest on the promise that developing countries will significantly reduce industrial tariffs–a compromise that the world’s least developed countries say threaten their development and livelihood security rights.

The majority of Grassroots International’s partners rely on agriculture for income, food security and sustaining healthy communities. The US’s trade position is intricately linked to the parameters of the US Farm Bill, the major legislation that ultimately controls US and global agricultural markets. Our partners’ livelihoods are affected by a US agricultural policy process that they have no control over. Their greatest hope is through social movements like the Via Campesina, an international movement of small farmers, indigenous communities, community fisher people, agricultural workers and rural women working to stop global agriculture from being regulated through the WTO.

The US trade proposal calls for:

-Developed countries cut their tariffs by 55-90 percent;
-All countries eliminate all agriculture export subsidies by the year 2010;
-Three categories for food aid–food aid for emergencies, for very poor countries and for other countries; and
-Longer phase-in periods for developing countries for tariff and export subsidy cuts.

While on the surface the US proposal appears fair and equitable for all 140 member countries of the WTO, the US proposal builds in a strategy to continue protecting US agricultural corporations and large industrial producers. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy criticized the proposal on the following points:

-Excess production of commodities and food dumping is not addressed;
-US agricultural subsidies are shifted to WTO exemption boxes that do not limit domestic support of large industrial producers and corporations;
-US food aid continues to be sold and shipped to developing countries, diminishing local agricultural markets; and
-Transnational commodity traders remain unregulated, allowing their domination of the global commodity markets.

The US trade position on agriculture will make or break the WTO Doha Round. Without major compromises on the part of the US trade office and US agricultural corporations, the world’s developing countries will continue to prevent agreement on global agricultural regulations. For the moment, such a stalemate will be better than making a deal that gains small farmers nothing. Through the Via Campesina, Grassroots International’s partners will be participating in the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, but from outside the negotiation room where they will stand in solidarity with millions of farmers. As the negotiations come closer, Grassroots will be monitoring the progress with the hope that our partners can secure their livelihood rights and that US policy becomes good international policy.

Stay tuned.

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