Deal ignores hungry, say protesters

Trade | Bali package accused of not supporting small farmers in developing countries

BALI, Indonesia — It was a last-ditch effort to let the world know that not everyone thought the World Trade Organization deal on a limited “Bali package” was worth applauding.

Posters were distributed throughout the pressroom in the Bali convention centre Dec. 6 that featured a red line through the words “WTO” followed by an alternative to Bali: Build Alternatives by Local Initiatives.

A coalition of social movements and the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, of which Canada’s National Farmers Union is a member, issued a blistering statement of condemnation.

“The Bali package is a total sham for the poor and hungry of the world,” it said.

“The whole negotiation of the Bali package is nonsense. The right to food, the right to survival of small farmers cannot be subjected to any kind of negotiation in the WTO or any other place.”

WTO members who signed the agreement touted it as a blueprint for making trade easier and more profitable for the entire world, including farmers in developing and least developed countries, but protesters throughout the week saw it as a way to give more power to and make more money for large multinational corporations at the expense of the poor.

“Under the WTO, the developed countries can subsidize their agriculture sector with more than $300 billion while developing countries are not allowed to support, as needed, their small farmers,” the coalition said.

Protesters demonstrated throughout the week in front of the conference centre and the U.S. consulate in Bali under the watchful eye of thousands of heavily armed police and soldiers.

Unlike many previous WTO ministerial meetings in Montreal, Brussels, Geneva, Seattle and Cancun, there was little reported violence during the demonstrations.

Despite street claims that the WTO favours big business and rich countries at the expense of the poor in developing countries, all 159 WTO members agreed to the deal.

At the core of the protests is the belief that food should not be subject to trade negotiations that limit the ability to support local farmers in poor countries and impose costs on poor countries.

“The right to food is a universal human right (and) the tyranny of the WTO cannot put brackets on these rights,” said Henry Saragih, leader of an Indonesian peasant movement and a member of La Via Campesina international co-ordinating committee.

“Agriculture should never have been included in the WTO. Food is not just one more commodity.”

Complaints about agricultural subsidies and trade barriers were a key impetus when the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade first launched comprehensive negotiations at a Uruguay meeting.

The protesters in Bali said that was an historic mistake.

An Indian farm leader complained that the “expensive trade facilitation deal” and limits on farm subsidies tie the hands of poor countries when they attempt to promote national food self-sufficiency and protect their farmers from unfair competition from subsidized foreign imports.

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