It is urgent to re-orient the debate on agriculture and initiate a policy of food sovereignty.
We call on all those responsible in governments to step out of the ’neo-liberal model’ and to have the courage to seek an alternative path of cooperation with social justice and mutual assistance. The failure of the WTO was the failure of actors who are totally locked in a ’neo-liberal mindset’. Those responsible for trade orientate themselves principally to the interests of the elite and transnational industries. They appear to be incapable of seeing the real problems, much less seeking solutions for them. They think only of increased trade, grabbing bigger market shares, more privatization, more accumulation and more profit. Their only concern in the agricultural sector is to deal with export interests. This is shameful given the fact that the existence of millions and millions of peasants, more than half the world’s population, depends on local and domestic production and marketing. Vía Campesina believes that we need to engage in this debate. We must define more clearly the existing problems and articulate much needed solutions. We must also include those who are more responsible in governments and international institutions and who, we hope, are more sensitive to the real challenges of our world. The true conflict is not between governments, it is between models of production. Because of the scandalous behaviour of certain Northern governments in defending the interests of transnational industries, the conflict in Cancun was portrayed as a ’North – South’ conflict. We applaud the resistance of many governments, above all, of the South, against the dominance and the imposition of the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and some other industrialized countries.Nevertheless, we reiterate that in the agricultural sector, the real conflict behind this confrontation among governments is a conflict between a sustainable model of peasant production based on food sovereignty, demanded by the peasants in the North and South and an industrial model, oriented to export, pushed for by transnationals, the US, the EU, other industrialized countries, but also by certain elite and important forces within governments ’of the South’.
We hope to be able to begin a dialogue with governments of the South and the North.We propose to take concrete steps to limit the damaging effects of the industrial-exporting model and to strengthen sustainable peasant production.
The first important step: we must centre the debate on food sovereignty and production rather than trade. To engage in agricultural production that ensures food needs, respects the environment and provides peasants with a life of dignity, an active intervention by the government is indispensable. This intervention must ensure:
peasants’ and small-scale farmers’ access to the means of production (land, seed, water, credit),
control of imports in order to stabilize the internal price to a level that covers the costs of production,
control of production (i.e. supply management) in order to avoid surpluses,
international commodity agreements to control supply and guarantee fair prices to peasant producers for export products such as coffee, cotton, etc,
public assistance to help the development of peasant production and marketing,
organization of the domestic market to give local peasant women and men full access to this market.
To take concrete steps in this direction we must urgently explore alternatives at the national and international levels. We call on the agencies of the UN such as the FAO, the UNCTAD and the ILO to take initiatives to develop an alternative framework to the WTO. This alternative framework must seek to redefine international agricultural policies that address the poverty and marginalization that characterize the majority living in rural areas.
Cheap imports have disastrous effects. To obtain food sovereignty it is essential to stop dumping. Worldwide, agricultural imports at low prices are destroying local agricultural economies. Prior to Cancun and at the behest of the United States and the European Union, the WTO ratified a new dumping practice. In the European Union, internal prices above worldmarket level combined with export subsidies are being replaced by low internal agricultural prices and direct (de-coupled) payments. These payments continue to the largest producers. In the US similar mechanisms are put in place. These policies continue and exacerbate dumping. It gives an enormous advantage to agribusiness. It also discredits agricultural subsidies in general which, in turn, negatively affects the possibility of maintaining much needed public financial support to peasant agriculture.
The answer to the dumping of surpluses is not ’to liberalize further’. Eliminating direct and indirect export subsidies is an important step but even more important is a policy to control supply. Supply management effectively eliminates surpluses. Effective supply management also allows prices covering the cost of production and public financial support to peasant agriculture without generating surplusses that are dumped on other markets. The response to certain industrialized countries that practise dumping, cannot be to demand more liberalization and even more access to markets. These proposals do not defend the interest of farmers! Instead, these proposals only benefit export agriculture and transnationals (in the North and in the South); these proposals lead to the destruction of peasant production.
We must demand that surplus producing countries limit their production and manage their supply in order to avoid excess production and subsequent dumping. These countries should orient their public assistance to the development of sustainable peasant production geared for the internal market. Importing countries should have the right to stop imports to protect domestic production and invest in this sector.
"Free" trade with "fair" competition is an illusion. Agricultural markets need strong state intervention. The neo-liberal logic claims that an unsubsidized agricultural market with no border regulation and with no state intervention will make optimal use of the comparative advantages, create more benefits for everyone and thus regulate itself in a fair way. However by their very nature, agricultural markets cannot function in a socially just way without intervention by the State. Ending state intervention by eliminating agriculture policy instruments one by one would perpetuate the destructive restructuring of agriculture. This will displace millions and millions of men and women peasants, leaving them with no way to make a living. Regions and entire countries would be left with no capacity to produce food. Finally, only those who have money to purchase food will be able to eat. This scenario is catastrophic and includes an immense loss in terms of local varieties and food products, peasant knowledge, agricultural biodiversity, etc.
Peasants, rural women and small farmers make up more than half the world’s population. We have the right to a life of dignity. We have the right to produce our own food in our own territory. We have a right to make a living on our land. A food sovereignty policy would make this possible. Sustainable peasant production can guarantee a better standard of living in rural areas, help limit damage to the environment, and it can create the necessary economic dynamics to contribute to development of countries.
Our Korean friend, Mr. Lee died in Cancun while defending food sovereignty. We hope that his death will not be in vain.
The WTO kills men and women peasants! Let us take the path of food sovereignty! WTO out of agriculture!
International Co-ordinating Committee
Tegucigalpa, 11th of November, 2003