EXCERPT: America has agreed to end its cotton subsidies by 2006. On the surface this is good news, but once again the devil is in the detail. Aftab Alam Khan from Action Aid points that "the vast majority of its nearly $4bn of subsidies takes the form of domestic support not export subsidies". So the inequality will continue.
This inequality is destroying third world farmers...
Now to add insult to injury, the US is trying to undermine these farmers even further by introducing genetically modified cotton into the African market. This could destroy the cotton farmers especially in countries like Mali, sub-Saharan Africa's largest cotton producer.
So That's it Then - the Poor Stay Poor And We Carry on Polluting
Andy Rowell, 19 December
Do you ever suffer from a sense of deja vu? That you have seen something before. We have been repeatedly told by those that govern us that great progress is being made this year to eradicate poverty and end pollution. But yet it seems there is no progress at all. The progress that is made is so painfully slow that it is meaningless.
Yet on our TV screens and in our newspapers we are told that at meeting after meeting great historic deals have been done by our noble leaders. The photos are taken, the hands are shaken, and the leaders go home happy. Yet nothing seems to change.
The reality is that, despite all the promises from politicians, the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. That despite all the promises from the politicians, bureaucrats from rich countries make the rules that ensure the poor stay poor. That despite all their great promises, the rich carry on polluting, whilst saying they care for the planet.
Earlier this month, over 10,000 people attended the United Nations meeting on climate change in Montreal that has widely been reported as a significant breakthrough in tackling the problem. Whilst some 157 countries have agreed to extend the existing Kyoto agreement for binding targets beyond its existing deadline of 2012, the biggest polluter of them all the US - has just agreed to talk.
The US, that consumes a quarter of the world’s oil and gas, has agreed nothing more than to talk about a problem when scientists are telling us that radical action is need now. But all the US is doing is talking about the need for talking. It is, as the saying goes, fiddling whilst Rome burns. The Coliseum is collapsing, yet the greatest modern-day Emperor just carries on pontificating. But if you read the papers, the Montreal summit was a great success.
We have just witnessed a similar charade. Last week over 10,000 people flew in to Hong Kong for a meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). There were six thousand delegates from 150 countries, two thousand non-governmental organizations, nine thousand police and ten thousand demonstrators all crammed into the city.
The WTO is the global trade watch-dog, where member governments go to sort our rules and regulations over trade and services. WTO trade agreements provide legally binding rules for international commerce and trade policy. It has been set up by the rich to keep them rich and the poor poor.
On the surface we are told that this year’s WTO meeting had been specifically designed to help poor developing nations by removing global trade barriers in goods and services in areas such as agriculture and natural resources.
Although the talks were meant to be about helping developing countries, all the indications were before the meeting that they would do exactly the opposite - hinder not help their development. "The current round of negotiations is not delivering on what it was designed to do: help developing countries," argued Raymond Offenheiser, the President of the charity Oxfam in America. "What's on the table now would not promote development and could even do more harm than good."
Friends of the Earth argued "it is increasingly clear that the negotiations threaten to undermine development, the environment, and the livelihoods and employment of tens of millions of people".
Crucial to any deal was the vast subsidies that the EU and America pay to their farmers as well as the import tariffs they impose on produce from Third World farmers. These subsidies are undermining small farmers in developing countries across the world, leading to what is known as the G20 - a group of 20 developing nations calling for the "immediate standstill" on their use and a date set for their elimination.
Although an immediate standstill was never going to happen, the one nugget of good news was that a date was finally agreed for the elimination of export subsidies by the developed world countries by 2013. This one fact saved the summit from failure but little to signal it a success: "This is more symbolic than substantive" argued the development agency Cafod. "In reality, its impact on the damaging effects of dumped cheap European food will be very limited."
Action Aid’s head of its Trade Justice campaign, Aftab Alam Khan, was equally dismissive. "As the ink dries on the final declaration, it is disappointing and frustrating that poor countries have been cheated once again," he said. The deal, he argues, "reflects the interests of a few rich countries like the EU and the US rather than those of more than 100 developing countries, home to four-fifths of humanity".
Once again the devil is in the detail. Whilst EU Ministers will sell this deal as "historic" saying that its farm export subsidies will end, Action Aid argues that "the EU managed to deceive poor countries by concentrating everyone's minds on an end date of 2013 for its â‚¬1bn worth of export subsidies, when the real issue is the â‚¬55bn that it gives in other forms of domestic support".
America too appeared on the surface to give ground on its vast agricultural subsidies worth in excess of $19 billion a year. One of the biggest fights at the WTO was about cotton. America's 22,000 cotton farmers, who produce just over a third of the world’s cotton, receive some $4.3 billion in subsidies and other support, equivalent to an average of $200,000 per farmer. This subsidy was found to be illegal by the WTO last year but the US is ignoring the ruling. So US subsidies continue distorting global prices (they have fallen to an all time low) and undermining small-scale cotton farmers around the world.
Now America has agreed to end its cotton subsidies by 2006. On the surface this is good news, but once again the devil is in the detail. Aftab Alam Khan from Action Aid points that "the vast majority of its nearly $4bn of subsidies takes the form of domestic support not export subsidies". So the inequality will continue.
This inequality is destroying third world farmers. The World Bank has found that an end to all forms of global protection would increase cotton prices by an average of 12.7% over a 10-year period. The largest gains would go to those who need it most: West African farmers where some 9 million small-scale farmers rely on the crop for their livelihood. Whereas cotton production costs in America are high in Africa they are amongst the lowest in the world.
The crop is so valuable in West Africa that the farmers call it "l'or blanc" or white gold. The artificial low price of cotton on the global market, which is caused by American subsidies, is devastating cotton farmers in the region.
Now to add insult to injury, the US is trying to undermine these farmers even further by introducing genetically modified cotton into the Africa market. This could destroy the cotton farmers especially in countries like Mali, sub-Saharan Africa's largest cotton producer.
Just like a snake-oil salesperson who promises a cure for all diseases, GM proponents are arguing that GM will reduce pesticide use and increase yields. Not everyone is convinced though. "The claims they are making for this cotton are absolutely false," argues Asseto Samake, a professor of genetics and biology at the University of Mali. Samake asks why, if GM cotton is so profitable, do they have to subsidise their cotton farmers with billions of dollars in the United States?
"Our farmers in West Africa achieve record production using just their digging sticks and regular seeds and they have great difficulty selling what they produce, because subsidies in America and Europe have made the world price for cotton fall" continues Samake. "So why do they come now with their GMOs and technology to solve a problem that they created? It's a big farce!"
So this year's WTO meeting was just that - a farce. On the surface the powerful looked to concede ground on subsidies that will help the poor grow rich. But we know there are hidden catches so that subsidies to agriculture will remain. In return an alternative deal was agreed on services whereby poor countries will have to open up key service sectors in their economies such as healthcare, education and water. This will be to the benefit of rich multinationals and the detriment of the poor.
So we have reached the end of 2005, we were meant to witness the end of poverty and and end to climate change. Instead we just have a bad feeling of deja vu. We have seen it all before and nothing ever changes.