The WTO Exposed for Favoring Free Trade over Fighting Hunger
A major clash is now out in the open, opposing those nations that are backing measures to produce more food to prevent famine, to those financial and political interests, centered in the Trans-Atlantic region, that insist on protecting neoliberal, “free market” trade rules no matter what the consequences. To schematize things, those committed to improving food supplies range from China and India, to Argentina, and African countries, and include virtually all independent farmers in Europe and the United States, who have been protesting for years for the right to produce more and better agricultural products.
The other side includes the U.S. government, the European Commission, the G7, as well as the financial networks in the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO), that often hide behind concerns for “saving the planet” and defending “human rights” (ignoring the fact that access to good food is the most basic human right).
The problem was openly acknowledged at the IMF and World Bank meeting in Washington last week, which coincided with a new report by the United Nations warning that the conflict in Ukraine risks “pushing as many as 1.7 billion people globally, or more than one-fifth of the planet, into poverty, destitution, and hunger”. (While it is the case that the crisis has worsened food, and fertilizer and energy supplies, the hunger crisis was in full explosion well before that conflict, as we have reported.)
In any case, on the sidelines of the Washington meetings, a joint press conference was held on April 22 by two top Indian representatives, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu. The former reported that she had told various IMF/World Bank meetings that “countries like India, which have potential for exporting agricultural production, particularly cereals, have faced difficulties with the WTO”. She made her point politely, but the message was stern: India expects the trade organization to end its obstruction now.
The “difficulties” Nirmala Sitharaman referred to, include the WTO rules banning or limiting the right of governments to support their farmers, to maintain food reserves, and to even attempt to achieve food self-sufficiency. The rationalization since 1995, when the WTO went into operation, is that food security can only come from “access to world markets,” not from national agricultural productivity. For example, a nation is out of order if it subsidizes its farmers, because this “distorts trade” and harms farmers in other countries. In recent years, India, China and other nations have lost several big legal battles against Washington over those rules used against them.
Now it is literally a worldwide matter of life and death for potentially over one billion people, to dump the deadly WTO rules and increase food production and availability.