September 10th 2023: Today marks the 20th anniversary of the martyrdom of farmer Lee Kyung Hae during the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico. Mr. Lee, a Korean peasant leader, award-winning farmer, and mentor to young farmers who had repeatedly denounced the WTO’s effects on Korean agriculture, took his own life in protest against the WTO’s policies of trade liberalization.
He left behind him a letter describing the consequences of cheap food imports on Korea: a shrinking population in the countryside and the paving over of fertile farm lands, the suffering of peasants unable to make a living and faced with the loss of land that their families had farmed for generations. His letter ends with a prophetic message:
“My warning goes out to all citizens that human beings are in an endangered situation. That uncontrolled multinational corporations and a small number of big WTO Members are leading an undesirable globalization that is inhumane, environmentally degrading, farmer-killing, and undemocratic. It should be stopped immediately. Otherwise the false logic of neoliberalism will wipe out the diversity of global agriculture and be disastrous to all human beings.”
Today, the National Farmers Union (NFU) joins with all members of La Via Campesina – peasant, family farmer, farm worker and Indigenous peoples organizations from all parts of the world – in remembering Mr. Lee and his message on the International Day of Action Against the WTO and Free Trade Agreements.
La Via Campesina was founded in 1996 by the NFU and other farm organizations, based upon their shared opposition to the WTO’s role in shifting power away from governments by putting critical decision-making power in the hands of multinational corporations. The WTO and other trade agreements increase the power and influence of transnational agro-industrial corporations at the expense of the livelihoods of peasants and family farmers, the living and working conditions of farm workers, undermining human rights and the rights of peasants and Indigenous peoples, and destroying local markets. Agreements include Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Mechanisms that hamper governments from enacting new legislation and regulations to protect human and environmental health. Canadian investors in the mining, oil and gas sector have initiated the highest number of Canada’s ISDS cases – 70 percent! These disproportionately target environmental policies in developing nations. The warning Mr Lee left us is especially relevant as Mexico currently struggles to uphold its food sovereignty by prohibiting GM corn for human consumption.
On this September 10th 2023, the NFU stands united with our allies in La Via Campesina calling for fair and just international trade systems. Now, more than ever, we need binding trade rules that put the interests of people and nature over profits, so our national food systems can be based on food sovereignty, diversity, equity, and promote the well-being of our rural communities.