(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)
Basically as an agriculturist and equally concerned as the Executive Chairman of India’s pioneer and premier Farmers’ Organisation, Bharat Krishak Samaj, I have closely watched with utter disappointment and dismay how the W.T.O. has gone into monopoly control of developed countries. OECD countries are aggressively pursuing the policy of monopolistic globalisation through the machination of W.T.O. I nursed no great hope that something positive will emerge out of my interactive session with Mr. Pascal Lamy, Director General, W.T.O. who visited New Delhi on 5th April ostensibly for having a better appreciation and understanding of India’s over all approach and implications of the on-going W.T.O. negotiations.
For the stake holders, expectations never ran high and there was no misgiving that the visit of Mr. Pascal Lamy to India was aimed more at scoring even a better deal for the developed countries than appreciating the problems that throttle the livelihood of the poor and vulnerable segment of the third world, the agro-rural people.
He has never been effectively helpful in reduction or phasing out of farm subsidies by the developed countries. Absolutely imperative as it was, my dialogue with Mr. Pascel Lamy was an extension of our effort to safeguard the interest of developing countries.
During an inter active session with him on 5th April in New Delhi, it was made absolutely clear that dilatory tactics, threats might ultimately cause undoing of the W.T.O. itself. While taking over from Mr. Supachi Panitchpakdi of Thailand, Mr. Lamy committed himself to fair and justifiable trade negotiations and work out solution to the contentious issues of subsidies, domestic support, market access and various other distortions in AoA.
But as Director General of W.T.O., he has been consistently underplaying the needs of developing countries. WTO’s core motive is to promote the interest of agri-business multinationals at the expense of small and marginal farmers and family farms across the world. Agriculture negotiations should be from the point of view of the farmers and not from the point of view of multinationals and economists.
There are sufficient reasons to take a critical view of the present subsidy regime as large chunks of subsidies and support given in North America and Europe go to agri-business corporations and farmers with large land holdings. All trade experts agree to the fact that subsidies and support are trade distorting as they depress global prices placing the farmers in the developing countries at a disadvantage.
Notwithstanding the fact that all subsidies are trade distorting, some so-called trade experts and negotiators of the developed world try to justify their misdeeds by categorising subsidies and support as “trade-distorting” and “non trade-distorting”. Even WTO sings to this tune of categorisation.
Despite their comitments to reduce subsidies, the developed countries have increased their subsidies to escalated levels. Agri-business corporations and large farmers are strong economic entities and therefore should not need any support.
The present subsidy regime is contrary to the general perceptions that strong needs no support. Farmers do not agree with the jugglery of words in WTO literature like creation of different Boxes- Green, Blue, Amber etc.- and different types of sugar coated formulae.
If the mission of Mr. Pascal Lamy was for ensuring free and fair trade he should take urgent steps to phase out all types of subsidies and support to agri-business corporations and farmers with large land holdings in the developed countries. Export subsidies and support are meant for traders and should be phased out immediately.
Small and marginal farmers, particularly in the Third World need to be protected against cheap subsidised imports. The concept of special products (SPs) and special safeguard mechanism (SSM), now being floated, is inadequate to safeguard the livelihood of farmers.
These mechanisms will invite unnecessary complications. In lieu of these new concepts, it is imperative that developing countries be given the option to apply quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports, whenever needed, to protect the livelihood of farmers. Agriculture is not only for trade, its a way of life in the developing countries.
European Union accepts this and says that agriculture is multi-functional. It is amazing why European Union should not come out openly and say that it is high time to bring back the mechanism of QRs on imports to protect the farm sector. Interestingly, WTO has now come to decide what type of food should be consumed by the people which may be against the national and cultural habits and prove to be hazardous to health and environment.
The WTO dispute settlement body has recently given a ruling against European de facto moratorium on GM foods. This ruling amounts to forcing countries to accept food much against their choice. WTO should not dictate the type of food that should be consumed by consumers in different countries.
The WTO should focus mainly on the concerns of the producers of primary commodities, the farmers and not for the interests of agri-business multinationals.
(Editorial : Farmers' Forum Magazine)