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Message-ID: <3144@panap.po.my>
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 10:15:47
Subject: [asia-apec 875] Message to the WTO - Hands Off Agriculture!
From: panap@panap.po.my (PAN Asia Pacific)
Sender: owner-asia-apec@jca.ax.apc.org

Message to the WTO - Hands Off Agriculture!

By Suria Prakash and Jennifer Mourin
13 November 1998

Food security is emerging as a major issue in the APEC region and in other Asian countries following liberalization of agricultural trade, said participants at the Forum on Land, Food Security and Agriculture held at the Grand Olympic Hotel.

Agricultural trade liberalization has hit farmers and consumers in the region, causing increased landlessness, unemployment and food shortages. Food prices, in many countries, have gone beyond the reach of the common people, and many of them now go hungry or eat less, they said.

"We must remove agricultural trade and food from the purview of the WTO and other trade agreements. As long as we do not do this, there is no food security. And this is the challenge to the poor", the Forum said.

"Domestic hunger is always the outcome of free trade in agriculture", said Dr Vandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. "And the people who go hungry are those who can grow their own food if they are allowed to do so. But today's totalitarian corporate-controlled food system doesn't allow this. So small farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people are all affected. Yet, the only people who can work the land for food are the landless workers".

"Food should be taken out of trade agreements; and food and seeds out of the Intellectual Property Rights system. Food rights should be at the centre of food production in a deeper ethnical system of sharing and caring. And each one of us carry responsibility for this. Through united action, we can turn the logic of the power-that-be and the corporations".

"All trade agreements merely legitimise organised greed", she said. "As if you are not greedy, you are illegal; if you save or share seeds, you are illegal, storing food is illegal, small fishermen trying to earn their livelihood through fishing is illegal…" These are then justified under the term 'competitive advantages'.

India, for example, has been told not to grow food, but grow and export shrimps (through aquaculture) and flowers, and also export meat for competitive advantage. But, every US dollar earned from meat export has destroyed $15 of local food economy, and every dollar earned from aquaculture export destroyed $5 - $10 worth of local economy. One dollar earned from flower export can import only ¼th of the food that can be grown with the same resources.

Sarojeni Rengam, of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific, said what Asian countries were experiencing was not just a food crisis but a 'human crisis', because it had not only economic, but political, social and cultural impacts. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia faced severe problems destabilising households and community as they pushed hard for industrialisation and exports of 'high-value' crops and neglected food production. Food is not merely a commodity - it is a source of livelihood, survival, and identity, and essence of culture for communities.

In Malaysia, cereals accounted for 48.1% of last year's RM4.7 billion food import bill deficit. Food prices had jumped 40% - 60% this year and thousands of jobs lost and minimum wages frozen following the financial crisis, which was an offshoot of globalisation. "Women are the hardest hit," she said. Violence against women has risen as food availability decreased in the family".

"We cannot gamble our means of existance on market speculation", she warned. "Food security requires that we back away from trade liberalisation in agriculture and food production, and construct national policies that promote sustainable agriculture that ensure a high level of public control over agricultural production and distribution, and that guarantee food to all Malaysians".

The Forum's was unanimous in its rejection of APEC, its principals and activities. But, "where should we be going from here?" asked Mika Iba, of the Network for Safe and Secure Food based in Japan. The GATT revision is due in the year 2000, and "it is an opportunity for Southern agricultural countries to work for the scrapping of the agricultural agreement from the WTO," she said.

Later, addressing a press conference Rafael Mariano, Chairperson of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, representing also the National Patriotic Alliance, said that local markets in the Philippines has been dumping grounds for food imports following agricultural trade liberalisation. Peasants have loss their land, unemployment was increasing, and more and more consumers are left with no purchasing power to buy food.

Landlessness was the key question in the Philippines, he emphasised. "Among every 10 land tillers, 7 do not own land and pay exorbitant land rent. For food security, the Philippines has to address the question of landlessness, and break land monopoly".

Brewster Keene, who also addressed the press, said corporations were increasingly controlling food production and trade. And now, seeds through genetic engineering and patents. "This is leading to the control of the whole food chain, and the companies are deciding what we should eat, which is alarming". The large corporations are now pushing genetically engineered foods, "but if the public knew what was going on behind their promotion of genetically engineered foods, the companies will be in trouble".

He said the 'losers' in trade liberalisation, namely peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous people - should form a 'common alliance' with other people in fighting against this unfair system.