Oxfam, Development NGOs From EU To Fight Against WTOs Cancun Proposal

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Brussels, Sept 21: | Updated: Sep 22 2003, 05:30am hrs
Who said: The Doha round was supposed to make a landmark difference, in the sense that the interests of developing countries would be centre stage. Cancun showed that this was mere rhetoric. The meeting was presented as a process of give-and-take. In fact, the poor countries had given so much away that they had little left to offer. Or: World trade negotiations will never be the same again. This meeting (at Cancun) has failed, and the rich countries are to blame.

Or: The (European Unions) new common agricultural policy, or CAP requires European farmers to sell their products below their production costs. (We) ask the governments of third countries not to ratify this new form of dumping, and to reject the WTO declaration proposal for Cancun.

Obviously none of these statements emanated from the official European Union delegation to the fifth WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun. They were made in fact by a Catholic non-governmental organisation (NGO), by Oxfams Phil Twyford, and by a European farmers organisation in that order. This city, in other words, is home not only to the key institutions of the 15-nation European Union (EU) but also to a wide range of development NGOs. Many of their members were manning the barricades in Cancun earlier this month, just as they had been when WTO trade ministers met in Seattle some four years ago.

These Brussels-based NGOs are the natural allies of developing countries on many of the issues covered by the Doha Development round. But they are largely ignored by the diplomats from developing countries, who prefer to deal with their opposite numbers from the European Commission, which is the EUs trade negotiating arm.

Take the paper setting out the position of the Brussels-based NGO, CIDSE, on agriculture. (CIDSE, incidentally, brings together 15 European and North American development organisations). Here is what it says on the current WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA): The AoA promotes an industrialised model of agriculture that has jeopardised food security in developing countries by pursuing a capital and chemical-intensive form of production, geared to exports from large farms rather than the interests of small producers. As a consequence, there has been widespread dumping by rich countries of food exported at below the cost of production, just as poor countries have been forced to open their markets. CIDSE is not against international trade provided its benefits are shared more equally between and within countries.

However, current global trade rules are biased against poorer countries and poorer people. The current issue at stake is the imposition of free trade at whatever cost to national development and well-being. The organisation representing European farmers, CPE, described the Cancun agricultural negotiations as a dirty trick, even before they started. It called for a ban on any form of dumping, protection for domestic markets from cheap imports, and the development of a sustainable farmer-based protection. The CPE also supported the Dakar Declaration, which had been drawn up in May by representatives of 50 farmers organisations from Asia, Africa, the Americans and Europe, meeting in the Senegalese capital. Their numbers included the Delhi-based South Asian Peasants Coalition, on the one hand, and an organisation representing Belgian farmers, the Walloon Agricultural Federation (FWA), on the other.

The Dakar Declaration bluntly pointed out that the assumption that the international market can produce valid results, uniform for all countries, has been disproved by the facts.

Agricultural prices are unstable, chronically depressed and tend to fall over time. The Declaration urged governments to reject the current WTO vision and proposals, and defend in Cancun the principle of food sovereignty.

A member of the Belgian farmers organisation, the FWA, was in Cancun, urging delegates from producer and consumer countries to work together. He is Yves Somville. Like Dr Amit Mitra, secretary-general, Ficci, who also made the journey to Cancun, Mr Somville is a member of the EU-India Round Table.

It will be interesting to see if the two men will join forces at the next meeting of the Round Table, to be held in Rome in December, to defend the principle of food sovereignty.

Oxfam, the 50-year old organisation that began life as the Oxford Famine Relief, came to Cancun to press for the elimination of unfair trade rules. Trade, for Oxfam, is one of the most powerful forces linking our lives, and a source of unprecedented wealth. Yet millions of the worlds people are being left behind because of unfair trade rules. Mexican farmers, for example, cannot compete with low-priced corn, grown with the help of the US government subsidies. The crash of corn prices has badly affected millions of rural Mexicans, according to Oxfam.

Brussels, in other words, offers Indian and other diplomats from developing countries an excellent opportunity to join forces with the European NGOs, like CIDSE, like CFE, like Oxfam that are fighting for the rights of farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.And waiting to publicise their efforts is the Brussels office of Inter Press Service, a news agency with a network of correspondents in more than 100 countries, that is dedicated to reporting on development issues from the viewpoint of developing countries.