Groups Say Why WTO Should Stay Out Of Food And Agriculture

Original Publication Date: 
14 December, 2003
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Geneva, December 15, 2003 – As country delegates from around the globe gather here today at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) headquarters to look for ways to go ahead with international trade talks, a number of civil society organisations * presented a letter explaining why the WTO should stay out of the food and agriculture sectors.

When the WTO’s ministerial meeting collapsed in Cancún, Mexico, in September 2003, organisations representing millions of people from around the world hailed the collapse as a victory for their campaigns to stop governments pushing unwanted liberalisation and privatisation policies upon them.

The letter presented today criticizes the US and the European Union and their quest for foreign agricultural markets that is devastating rural peasant and independent family farm-based economies, especially in the South, and driving them off their lands.

But the groups also criticise the so-called Group of 20 (formerly the G 21) developing nations, which “although a badly needed political counterweight to the US and the EU, mainly represents exporting interests in the South but does not defend the interests of the large majority of small scale farmers and peasants producing for domestic markets.”

The social movements state that current liberalisation policies focus on increasing exports that satisfy the needs of corporations and threaten the livelihoods of the poorest. Included in their letter is a list of suggestions to change the current international framework for agricultural policies taking peoples’ food sovereignty as a leading principle. Among others, it asks national governments to protect domestic food production and distribution, and to claim the right to apply these measures as a fundamental human right that cannot be traded-off against other concessions.

“Trade negotiators think it acceptable to sacrifice local food production and consumption, and the livelihoods of millions of farmers, in return for increased access to international markets for their main exporters. But social movements around the world claim that control of world’s food supply can not and must not lie in the hands of an unaccountable, undemocratic and non-transparent body, such as the World Trade Organization. ,” say the civil society organizations.

The letter states that the main conflict in international trade is not a North-South conflict: it is a social conflict that needs to be adressed. It is a conflict between corporate, export orientated agriculture and a handful of big agricultural producers on one hand and on the other hand de-centralized, peasant- and family farm-based sustainable production primarily oriented towards domestic markets, in which hundreds of millions need to find an existence.

To view the letter, go to – under “new”
To view the People’s Food Sovereignty Statement, go to

NOTES for editors:
*: Among the group are international movements who represent millions of peasants, family farmers, fisherfolk and as of December 11, 2003 they include:
Colibri, Development Fund, ETC-group, Focus on the Global South, IATP, IBON, Public Citizen, REDES-Uruguay, Via Campesina (Internatinonal Farmers’ Movement), WFF (World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers), Center for Encounter and active Non-Violence-Austria, FoodFirst-USA, Comité para la Defensa y Desarrollo de la Flora y Fauna del Golfo de Fonseca (CODDEFFAGOLF-Honduras),