Published: 02/11/2005

The IUF Agricultural Workers Trade Group Board met in India from October 24-26 to review, among a wide range of issues, the organizing priorities for agricultural workers’ unions as governments prepare for the December 2005 WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong. The Board adopted the following policy resolution on Agriculture and the WTO Negotiations.

The IUF Agricultural Workers Trade Group Board, meeting in Kolkata, India from October 24-26, 2005, notes with grave concern the ongoing destruction of rural livelihoods, North and South, as the consolidation of corporate agribusiness extends its production systems and influence. Agricultural workers have always had to struggle against massive violations of basic rights, poverty, exclusion from legal and social protection, lack of access to land and resources, and very often additional exclusion and oppression as migrants and as women. Despite the urgent need for action on the systemic global crisis in agriculture, these issues are not on the WTO agenda.

The WTO ministerial at Cancun was deadlocked on agriculture and ultimately collapsed. As we approach the WTO Hong Kong negotiations, a “breakthrough” is being promoted in which agriculture is being used as a bargaining chip to expand corporate influence in services and in manufacturing. As a result, agriculture ends up being used in deals involving tradeoffs on banking and telecommunications licenses or computer chips.

If the negotiations do succeed in achieving a “breakthrough”, we have no illusions about the impact on our members’ livelihoods. The “solutions” being promoted by the various players – the EU, the United States, the G20 etc. – do not address our needs as workers, and will exacerbate the crisis.

Increased liberalization of trade in agricultural products over the past decade was supposed to bring benefits to all. The only winners were the global agri-food TNCs. These TNCs are driving the overproduction and export of staple crops from a handful of producer countries, driving down prices and eliminating millions of jobs. Subsidized overproduction has failed to provide decent work even for the agricultural workers in some of the world’s richest economies. For developing countries, “diversification” into flowers and “niche” products is being promoted as a solution to the collapse of agricultural commodity prices. It is in this context that increased market access for developing country exports does not address the fundamental problem.

As we approach the Hong Kong WTO ministerial, we call on governments to refuse any “tradeoffs” on agriculture which further weaken their capacity to implement the policy measures required for the realization of decent work. The WTO Agreement on Agriculture must be revised to ensure that the policy tools needed to rescue agriculture from the social and environmental damage of the last decades can be halted and reversed.

We repeat our calls [2nd World Conference of the AWTG Resolution on the impact of subsidized agricultural exports on developing countries, 24th IUF Congress Resolution (2002 On Global Trade and Investment] for an end to the system of export dumping. A concrete timetable must be established for the phasing out and elimination of export subsidies. Subsidies must instead be redirected towards support for socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture based on decent work.

We call on the IUF to assist affiliates in developing, promoting and implementing national, regional and international programs to address overproduction, overcompetition and excessive concentration in specific agricultural commodities in ways that bring concrete benefits to agricultural workers and their communities. These programs will include a range of policy tools including supply management, price stabilization and other appropriate measures as an integral component of rebuilding sustainable agriculture centered on decent work and rural livelihoods. These programs will also include the provision by government or other appropriate agencies of training/skills development for diversification into sustainable food crop production for local consumption.

The vast majority of agriculture workers worldwide are in poor countries that have been further impoverished under the impact of liberalized agricultural trade. Subsidies for agriculture have never been an option in these countries, and the few fiscal and policy tools for agricultural support they once possessed have been dismantled under pressure from the international financial institutions or are being eliminated to conform with WTO rules. Domestic support for rebuilding agriculture in developing countries requires, at a minimum, the rehabilitation of tariffs, taxes (national and international) and trade management tools as legitimate policy measures. At the same time, sustained resources must be mobilized internationally to facilitate and support recovery measures to reverse the social and environmental damage arising from export-oriented intensive production methods and the rebuilding of agriculture to serve its primary function in fulfilling the right to safe, adequate and nutritious food under decent work conditions.