Do not expect food security deal from WTO, activists tell developing countries

December 15, 2015, 10:47am


Delegates follow proceedings during the International Forum on Women in Business, a precursor to MC10, at the Laico Regency Hotel in Nairobi on December 14, 2015. Lobbyists have said that developing countries should not expect solutions on food shortage from the WTO conference. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

By Aggrey Mutambo

Do not look to the rich countries for solutions on food shortage, lobbyists have told developing countries, criticising the WTO for failing to reach a deal on food production.

The activists made their case as the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation began in Nairobi.

In a press statement, an alliance calling itself the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) told developing countries to stop expecting solutions from the WTO because, they said, rich countries are using the organisation to benefit themselves.

“Achieving a genuine food security deal will not be possible within the WTO. You can’t expect solutions from a system that breeds the world’s problems. The only ‘permanent solution’ in sight is to junk the WTO!” the activists said in a statement Monday.

“This year marks the 20th year of the WTO which for the last two decades, has served as the primary instrument for the neo-liberal globalisation offensive of transnational corporations and the global elite.”

Nairobi is from Tuesday hosting the WTO conference, also known as MC10.

STALLED NEGOTIATIONS

But the meeting comes against the backdrop of several stalled negotiations touching on agricultural subsidies, sensitive technology and barriers to free movement of goods across borders.

Although MC10 is expected to tackle the issue of agricultural subsidies that rich countries give to their farmers, activists argued that there is low certainty the problem will be solved after 15 years of stalling.

The PCFS took issue with the way the US, the EU, Canada and Australia blocked a long-lasting agreement on public stockholding programmes for food security that it said could benefit developing countries.

These programmes allow developing countries to provide subsidies for domestic agricultural products as long as they don’t exceed certain levels.

Countries like Kenya previously argued for this agreement so that they could subsidise local farmers and control pricing without being legally challenged by the developed world for distorting the food markets.

“What is cruel here is that developed countries pour billions of dollars to subsidise their products while legally prohibiting poor nations from supporting their own domestic markets as in the case of Africa,” says Prof Edward Oyugi of the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (Seatini).

Seatini, which campaigns for better policy in the global trading system, is part of the food security lobby group.

TEMPORARY SUBSIDIES

During the last WTO meeting in Indonesia in 2013, poor nations were temporarily allowed to subsidise their farmers even if they would exceed the limits of “trade-distorting” actions.

These actions would include purchasing produce from farmers at fixed prices by governments.

But this provision expires in 2017, meaning the Nairobi meeting is under more pressure to create a permanent solution.

On Monday, several activists and NGOs announced they would hold a parallel forum at the Professional Centre in Nairobi before marching to the MC10 venue at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre to voice their opposition to the WTO.

Other street demonstrations are expected on Wednesday.

“The Social Movement Working Group against WTO wants the Kenyan government to withdraw completely from WTO so as to protect local peasant farmers and consumers,” said Cidi Otieno, one of the leaders of another grouping that brings together Kenyan and international activists.

“The meeting will not address the skewed nature of the WTO agreements as they will only serve to facilitate the multinationals to continue dominating the fragile Kenyan market at the expense of local entrepreneurs,” he added.

The movement includes World March of Women Kenya, Coalition for Constitution Implementation, La Vie Campesina, Food Sovereignty Network USA, TNI, Indignado and Focus on Global South and the Korea People's League. They announced they would hold street demonstrations on Wednesday to voice their opposition to the trade meeting.