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July 22, 2008

WTO deal being mooted could ruin small scale farmers, groups charge

Farmers from Europe, Africa, Asia and Canada warned the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on July 22 that a trade deal being negotiated this week could ruin small farmers, harm the environment and increase hunger.

On the second day of a week of crunch talks seeking a breakthrough to rescue the 'Doha' trade liberalisation round, groups representing small-scale farmers told WTO chief Pascal Lamy the proposals were dangerous and unacceptable.

"Further trade liberalisation will benefit large-scale corporate farming and multinational traders at the expense of small-scale, vulnerable farmers, hindering agricultural and rural development in countries which need it most," the farm groups said in a joint declaration handed to Lamy.

The Doha round aims, among other things, to open markets for farm exports from developing countries and limit the huge subsidies paid to farmers in Europe and North America which skew the market against agriculture in the developing world.

The coalition of farmers from the wealthy and highly subsidised European Union and producers from some of the world's poorest countries, in east Africa, showed battle lines at the Geneva talks were not based on purely 'north' versus 'south'.

Pekka Pesonen, head of EU farm lobby COPA-COGECA, said the big winners of the proposed liberalisation would be large-scale farm exporters, some of which are in the EU, but mostly in Brazil, Argentina, the United States and Australia.

While not against liberalisation per se, he said the rules had to allow for subsidies and tariffs to be used to protect livelihoods, the environment and local food production.

European farmers have long been protected by high import tariffs and subsidies totalling more than 40 billion euros a year.

But they are concerned the EU could bargain away too much in reducing import tariffs in the WTO talks while the Africans fear their domestic producers will be squeezed out of their home market by powerful foreign exporters if their tariffs come down.

"We fear that the proposals currently on the table in the WTO will undermine the ability of many countries throughout the world to provide their citizens with urgently needed food security and stability," said the statement, which was also signed by farm groups from India, South Korea and Sri Lanka.

John Mutunga, head of a Kenyan farmers federation, said reforms to global trade that would cut high tariffs on value-added goods would greatly help Kenya, which exports crops like tea and coffee in a less profitable, unprocessed state. But he said developing countries, which have suffered greatly from global food price spikes over the last two years, had much to fear from the Doha round.

"We support the WTO ... but developments are likely to take away livelihoods, especially in developing countries," Mutunga said. "Food security cannot be solved through the free market."

Under the WTO proposals, countries will be able to shield some of their agriculture from the impact of tariff cuts with developing economies and especially the very poorest nations being offered more protection.

But producers in some developing countries are concerned that such measures could fence off markets for them.

Paraguayan Foreign Minister Ruben Ramirez said 70 percent of his country exports, led by beef, soy and maize, went to other developing countries, and he was concerned about possible abuse of so-called safeguard measures.

"This round cannot be allowed to generate new forms of protectionism," Ramirez said.


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