Globalization and Food Policy

I want to remind us that, even before September 11, we were heading toward a very militaristic world and police state, not only in the U.S. but globally. There have been recent revelations that the Bush administration was already planning on building up the antiterrorism campaign very intensively; and, at one of the street protests at Genoa, Italy, last year, a protestor was shot and killed by the police of Italy. So this is all part of a continuum. However, I would also agree that the movement is stronger than ever.

It’s just a quiet period, in regard to some of the manifestations that we’ve been used to, now, for the past two years since Seattle. But, underneath it all, the continuing movement to object to the takeover of our democracy by the corporate elite of this world and the development of a participatory democratic base among peoples worldwide is continuing unfettered. I agree entirely that Doha was a face-saving solution for the diplomats, and the move to launch a new round was just a matter of ink on paper. They always had that right to do so, since the creation of the World Trade Organization. It stated that at any time negotiations can go forward. They created a permanent legislative right for the members of the WTO, and the notion that a new round is the way to go is just a way for them to try to build up their agenda.

Farm Movement and Intellectual Property Rights

The farmers’ movement won a very significant victory in Doha. The developing countries’ governments, where the economy is entirely dependent on the agricultural base and food security depends on subsistence farming and local markets, succeeded in initiating a procedure within the WTO mechanism called a development box. This means they can create waivers for the very harsh WTO rules that were created in 1994, enabling farmers to be supported and protected and to waive the WTO rules.

This is an ongoing process and has a way to go, but that was a very important change in the way agriculture issues are being dealt with. Simultaneously, just a few days before the meeting in Doha, there were also meetings going on in Rome, Italy, where the newest world treaty was finalized. The International Convention on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is now a finished document, a binding international treaty that needs merely to be ratified by 40 countries before it will become enforceable law. And I predict it’s going to be the fastest-ratified treaty in the history of the United Nations. Many things are in this treaty; I can’t explain them all. But one of the key things–and, again, this was just a few days away from the negotiations in Doha where the intellectual property rights agreement was under severe attack–this treaty from Rome says is that intellectual property rights shall not be applied to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture or to their parts or components, the genes.

This is a hot new commodity, genetic resources. There’s a catch, which the U.S. government succeeded in including, which says that they shall not put patents on the genetic resources, their parts, or components… in the form received from the multilateral system of gene banks. Now, that “in-the-form-received” catch–although they just said you can’t patent the genes either, on the other hand, if you do some genetic engineering, then it’s not in the form received anymore, and so maybe you can. It’s obviously a very large gray area for the lawyers. And there’s a new era of diplomacy as well in these international agreements. There’s always been this belief that if you don’t have the U.S. involved in your treaty, you’re really not going to move forward. And on the contrary, they’re saying we really don’t want the U.S. involved in this treaty, and we will move forward without them. And when the U.S. made it clear that it will not join this new genetic resources treaty, then the governments that do join it can go right ahead and clarify this gray area. And that’s the plan, and it’s explicit.

Treaty after 27 Years

My organization will be sending three people to Porto Alegre, and we will have three people in New York City as well. We think we are in an era of pro-active campaigning, developing our agenda. The Rome treaty was a proposal from nongovernmental organizations. Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), which is now known as the “Etc. Group,” has been working on these gene issues for several decades, for 27 years. And they’ve worked on this specific treaty for 27 years. And now it is international law. We have been working with this organization and this global campaign on the genetic issues to launch a new treaty in Porto Alegre. We’re starting it as a treaty among the civil society organizations, but we fully expect that it will move into the governmental arena, and it will not take 27 years, we don’t think. The treaty says the genetic base of the planet, all life, is a part of the global commons and cannot be appropriated, cannot be privatized, and cannot be marketed as a commodity.

We’re also working toward a treaty initiative regarding the human right to water. Water resources are becoming ever more scarce, and a lot more hot politics regarding water will be coming up in the near future, if not already. Middle East issues are beginning also to revolve around access to water. We are saying that there are three levels to the human right to water. The human right level for the basic sustenance for people and communities should be absolutely free access. And than you begin to create other categories–what you need for your agricultural purposes and what you need for your basic economic life should be valued and monetized at a certain cost, and then all the rest of it is called abuse of water rights. We also have a staff person who is building a coalition between the farmers and communities along the Mississippi River and the farmers and communities along the Paranau River in Brazil. And there are a whole host of issues related to the farming systems, related to the ecology of river systems and the Amazon basin as a whole. The cost of soybeans, relatively speaking in North America and South America, is cast as a competition between farmers in the U.S. and farmers in Brazil and who’s going to be able to export into this outrageously skewed global market for soybeans. But, in fact, it’s the same corporations–it’s the Cargill Company, which dominated 80-90% of the grain market in the world. Because Cargill is not a publicly traded corporation, they don’t publish their data; so we’re not sure.

In New York, which is where I will be going, we will be holding a press launch of the genetic commons treaty simultaneously in Porto Alegre and in New York City (NYC), and we’ll be working on the water treaty there as well. Not only is the World Economic Forum going on in New York, but it’s also the preparatory conference for the tenth anniversary of the negotiation of the Earth Summit, the 1992 Rio de Janeiro treaties that launched the climate change and the biodiversity treaties. There’s going to be a tenth anniversary event in Johannesburg, South Africa, this September. It was scheduled for September 11, but they moved it forward a week. But, with this preparatory conference, there are actually two very major events going on in NYC simultaneously, and all of the activists are going to be engaged in both.

Fight over Precautionary Principle

Also in the NYC/Johannesburg gathering: a very important principle in international law–the precautionary principle, that says that you should not risk the human health, the environmental health, and the social and economic rights of peoples if you don’t have the scientific proof. This is the WTO case that you may be familiar with. Europeans tried to ban U.S. beef which had growth hormones in it, causing–young girls, in particular, it was noticeable, but all humans to exhibit–health problems from the artificial genetically engineered growth hormone. Europe lost, the U.S. won in that particular case. Although you could describe it in more detail and it has a lot of interesting facets to it. But there ought to be liability. The battle over genetically engineered foods is at the level of almost a trade war now.

The precautionary principle applies to all of these kinds of disputes–whether governments have the right to create trade barriers to protect human health and the environment, relative to the corporations’ right to export. But I was at a meeting on that subject, and the U.S. State Dept. official there and the representative of Estee Lauder Corporation (representing the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue, the group of all the major corporations on both sides of the ocean that has been monitoring trade policy), they both said that this precautionary principle is off the table. Don’t even try to discuss it. I think it’s their number one on the hit-list for the Johannesburg meeting. And, of course, that makes it our number one item for the hit-list as well: the role of the corporations in international government policymaking. This critique I think is coming forward very, very, very strongly.

Enron Scandal of Crony Capitalism

And I’m just delighted with the Enron scandal and the way that it illustrates the crony-capitalism that is going on in the U.S., at least as significantly as in Argentina. I’m also delighted that Enron is a transnational corporation; Human Rights Watch has identified its abuse of labor in multiple countries where it has done business. I’m also delighted to see that the international military coalition in the antiterrorism campaign is beginning to show cracks around some of these issues, and the European Union statement from the other day that says our treatment of prisoners of war is illegal under the rules of the Geneva Convention and linking that to the way that the U.S. has systematically stayed out of virtually every international treaty dealing with social factors, human rights factors, while they gung-ho push the economic international deals. This is a very important connection that is being made. We’ll see a lot more of that in the coming year or two, I think.

There’s going to be a major conference in Montreal we’re involved with in September of 2002 as well. There will be several thousand people there. It’s an entirely nongovernmental initiative; there will be no governments there in their governmental capacity, although we do expect Kofi Annan from the UN, the incoming WTO leader, and, hopefully, representatives from the IMF and World Bank leadership, as well, to join these nongovernmental voices. And our emphasis here is on the new voices. The international union of local authorities, the municipalities of all the world, will be there and are organizing an entire track of this conference. The parliamentaries of the entire world will be there, and are organizing an entire track of this conference. Youth will be there; Francophone representatives will be there. These are important facets of this movement that are beginning to be much more connected and better organized with the rest of us. I think the human rights lens will become the lens for how a lot of these issues move forward.

The current UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, has made some very important statements. She called the World Trade Organization a “nightmare for the developing countries.” A “nightmare.” And she said there is an apparent conflict between the intellectual property rights agreements, and the human right to food, the human right to health, and the human right to the self-determination of peoples. She made some dramatic statements after the bombing started in Afghanistan, although she was pulled back by her bosses and told to explain that she had misinterpreted President Bush’s comments.

We are stronger than ever. And after the meeting in Doha, with a little bit of strategic advantages for the corporate elite, I don’t understand why they chose Mexico City, one of the places in the world where mobilization, massive mobilization of the civil society groups from every sector are common. Well we’ll just see. I think the 5th meeting of the WTO Ministerial in Mexico City will be something to see.