The World Trade Organization is dead. Long live the WTO! At least it seems that way, given the nature of the rhetoric from various spokespersons after the failure of the Cancun WTO conference. Depending on the speaker퀌_s point of view, the results of Cancun either dealt a major blow to multilateral trade negotiations, empowered the development of new power groups, caused a minor setback to the process, or illustrated a need to change the WTO negotiation process.
Whatever stance you personally might take (hopefully more than a knee-jerk grunt of 퀌�WTO bad!퀌�), the current round of WTO talks should provoke serious thought, for it illustrates the effects of globalization. Prior to the conference in Cancun, a major identified issue centered upon agricultural trade, specifically farmer subsidies in developed countries and tariffs imposed by developing countries. Complaints about farmer subsidies emphasized that developed countries such as the United States, the members of the European Union and Japan heavily subsidize their farmers to the detriment of developing nations competing with them in the world marketplace. For example, U.S. subsidies for cotton growers allow U.S. growers to dominate the world market to the detriment of West African cotton growers, who produce cotton more efficiently than their U.S. competitors. Japan subsidizes its rice farmers at an even greater level.
Given that reality 퀌_ and given that authorities such as Hafiz Pasha, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations Development Program, point out that around 70 percent of the world퀌_s poorest people depend on agriculture for a living 퀌_ wouldn퀌_t it seem that all rational principles of economic and social justice demand measures which empower poor farmers from developing countries over rich corporate farmers from developed countries? Indeed, demanding farm-reduction subsidies for developed countries seems like it might just be the correct thing to do. Help the poor farmers from developing countries; insist that rich corporate farmers in developed countries get off the government teat and pay the actual cost for their products.
It seems like a good idea, doesn퀌_t it?
But ���� that퀌_s when other factors come into play. Yes, problems exist with farm subsidies, especially with certain products. However, looking at agriculture production from a globalistic, internationalist point of view leaves out issues of sustainability and food security. It may make greater economic sense from a global perspective for the United States to import some agricultural products from developing countries rather than pay farmers to grow them locally. But what agricultural chemicals have been used on those products? How much energy was expended in hauling those products over a greater distance? How many non-corporate farmers here at home lost their livelihood because of these imports? How can we provide economic justice for developing countries퀌_ farmers without denying it to our own? When the UN says that 70 percent of the world퀌_s poorest people depend on agriculture, you need to remember that also includes a portion of the U.S. population as well.
Additionally, not much exists to stop corporate farmers from moving to developing countries and taking over production of goods there, should economic factors make it preferable. What needs to be done to prevent farmers in developing countries from experiencing the same sort of suffering that individual American farmers have faced as corporate farming grows to dominate production?
The answers don퀌_t boil down to a simple slogan or one universal, cure-all solution. Countries will protect their own, even when it appears irrational from an outsider perspective. Globalism, while good in some contexts, may not be the social justice cure-all for problems with world agricultural production and trade.
One good thing that may emerge from the Cancun debacle is the development of the Group of 21. This block of developing countries may provide a much-needed check upon the powers of developed countries in future negotiations and lead the way to the much-needed middle path on this issue.
Something needs to be done. Social justice demands that we find a solution to these trade issues, whether through the mechanism of the WTO (which does offer developing countries more power than other mechanisms currently available to them) or through another process as yet unknown. We need to remedy these inequities 퀌_ while avoiding the sacrifice of sustainable practices.