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Kavitha Dispatch

Developing Countries, Big Daddy Corporations and the World Trade Organization

Can anyone agree on proper farming regulations?
Caption
The World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture is causing grave concern among increasing numbers of farmers' organizations, NGOs, and some governments. The agreement puts pressure on developing countries to open up their economies to cheaper imports of food and other agricultural products. It also obliges governments to reduce or stop subsidies to farmers. The WTO was formally extended in Jan. 1995 as the successor body to the General Agreement on Tariffs and trade (GATT). AOA commits WTO members to reducing import tariffs and domestic and export subsidies in their agricultural sector and thereby liberalizing international trade.

We should pay special attention to another aspect of the WTO - the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which may have serious effects on agriculture and farmers' rights. TRIPS requires governments to afford patent protection for microorganisms and biological processes involving them, which includes genetic engineering processes and genetically engineered animals and plants. It also requires that the intellectual right to plant varieties be protected either by patents or through an 'effective sui generis system of protection.'

For more information, check out these two non-profit organizations founded by activist Ralph Nader:

Global Trade Watch
http://www.tradewatch.org
National consumer and environmental organization conducts research and advocacy in the field of international trade and investment. Learn about NAFTA, GATT, WTO, China, and the Africa bill.

Public Citizen
http://www.citizen.org
A collection of community action groups based on issues related health, environment, politics, and development issues.

The concern is that the knowledge of Third World farmers and indigenous communities, which is mainly responsible for developing crops in the first place, will not be legally recognized and that corporations which genetically engineer biological resources will be rewarded instead. Developing countries would then have to purchase biotechnology products at high prices (which are facilitated by the patent protection) even though these countries are the origin of the biological resources. This is likely to lead to higher cost of seeds and food products in developing countries.

"There is little time left for action to mobilize public opinion and govt. policy makers to make relevant changes," said Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network. The African Delegation to the 5th Extraordinary Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources held from June 8-10, 1998 in Rome said, "We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us." African delegates criticized Monsanto's practices, "The only fruits of this technology is to go back to the Monsanto shop every year, and to destroy an age old practice of local seed saving that forms the basis of food security in our countries.

"We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for a millennia and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves." While they accepted and agreed that mutual help is needed to further improve agricultural production in their countries and that Western science could contribute to the improvement, they said it should be done on the basis of understanding and respect for what is already there.

"It should be building on local knowledge, rather than replacing and destroying it. And most importantly, it should address the real needs of our people, rather than serving only to swell the pockets and control of giant industrial corporations," proclaims the Zima delegate to the conference. "Africa should not be used as a testing ground for technologies and products which have been developed elsewhere."

Kavitha
 

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