International Trade Regimes – something to be cheery about?

So this is my reading response from last week – a top dollar week, I thought. Food for anti-capitalist rage a-plenty :) scuse, the smooshed up crampedness of it – it has to all fit on an A4 page and I’m not going to adulterate it now.

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International Trade Regimes – Can international regulations meet the needs of the local?

 

In theory, increased trade should produce greater benefits in terms of resources to fight poverty but trade liberalisation seen at the end of the twentieth century has been very unequal and ‘hit the poor’.

 

International trade agreements are dominated by the richer countries (eg. 1993 Agreement on Agriculture ‘basically a pact between the US and the EU’), resulting in legislation that panders to their interests at the expense of LDCs. This results in trade agreements that aim to alleviate the problem of over-production and market saturation, priority being given to opening new markets, using technology to get greater returns and increased competitiveness for the food market. This overlooks the needs of developing countries who want their domestic agricultural sectors developed and protected from dumping and to be recognised and rewarded for indigenous knowledge. For example:

 

Trade liberalisation and international trade agreements such as patents require a strong state to protect its citizens from exploitation and uphold the rules; developing countries often lack this and richer countries tend to take advantage of this (see how neo-liberal policies are eroding the power of the state, more control being conceded to a transnational capitalist class who have no loyalty to any one state, only to profits)

 

Genetic modification: IPRS are expensive to both obtain and uphold, privileging those with the money to maintain them; most genetically modified products are modified to meet the needs of the processor or to make producers reliant on total systems of production (i.e seeds, fertilisers and herbicides) all from the same company; genetic modification reduces biodiversity, contaminates landraces used by subsistence farmers and constricts their opportunity to improve crops through seed swapping; GM not culturally/socially acceptable in Mexico, national identity aligned with corn itself

 

Subsidies: current regulations protect those countries rich enough to subsidise the dumped products, destroying the receiving domestic agricultural market, pushing people off the land and tying the country into dependence on imports (US freely admits that food aid is merely a development of its export market). The power of developing countries to protect themselves has been eroded with countervailing responses to dumping restrained and health standards etc prevented from being used to ‘descriminate against imports’. Moreover, regulations prevent developing countries raising their own levels of subsidy to meet that of developed countries despite. Inequality is innate and protected within the international trade regime.

 

Problems stem from false premises of neo-liberal policy ideology: that the market self-regulates; that trade liberalisation will ensure the most efficient allocation of resources; that more trade equals more economic growth; market based agricultural systems are powerful engines for economic growth; exports are essential to economic growth and development; in other words, that the commodification of the agricultural system, transforming food from a basic necessity to a vehicle for profit is the secret to economic development, the engine for development overall.

 

In truth ‘free trade’ has never really been realised internationally enough for it to ever ‘self regulate’. It has been used solely as a tool with which to lever open the markets of developing countries to better exploit them whilst the developed world continues to use market distorting measures such as subsidies to maintain its advantage. Growth does not equal development. More food traded does not necessarily mean more food grown or more food for the hungry, moreover economic growth does not necessarily benefit all – the trickle-down effect is largely mythical. Exports have predominantly allowed developed countries to export their environmental degradation, take advantage of cheaper labour, and dump surplus subsidised food whilst developing countries find exporting to divert food away from the hungry and consolidates farms, pushing smaller producers off the land. Essentially, everything is subservient to profit (the profit of the few): environment, civil society, culture and development policy.  But international food trade regimes overlook the fact that food performs a function above and beyond that of profit – in all of these international trade regimes food can be seen to exist in a void without cultural, social or environmental significance which is a vital and intrinsic value of food. Can international regulation ever meet local needs? International regulation serves only the internationally powerful.

 

SOLUTIONS? Change the IPR laws: amend them to facilitate sharing and innovation, exclude basic processes and biological materials,  etc (148-9 in handbook)

Stop dumping: greater transparency, extend safeguards, accurate cost of production measures (p. 130 h/book)

Overhaul the capitalist system (emphasis on profit)? La Via Campesina – putting the means of production back into the hands of the producers and wresting back power from the multi-nationals (role of the state vs. Transnational capitalist class) Via Campesina describes its main goal as ‘to realise food sovereignty and stop the destructive neoliberal processes’. ‘Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It develops a model of small scale sustainable production benefiting communities and their environment. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.’