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“Free Trade is Essential for Global Food Security”

This was the message from Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, who confidently asserted that “international trade is not part of the problem, but part of the solution to global food crises”, at a recent meeting of European Agricultural Economists in Zurich, Switzerland.

This was the message from Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, who confidently asserted that “international trade is not part of the problem, but part of the solution to global food crises”, at a recent meeting of European Agricultural Economists in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Director General began his keynote speech with a sober assessment of the world food price crisis before highlighting the role that increasing global trade could, theoretically, play in bringing down food prices in developing countries. “The IMF Food Price Index is showing a 33 percent rise in July from a year ago, and staying close to 2008 peak levels. International food stocks are at record low levels and the rise in food prices has been an important factor in the social unrest that we have witnessed in some quarters of the globe recently.”

“Clearly”, he continues, “international trade was not the source of the food crises. If anything, international trade has reduced the price of food over the
years through greater competition, and enhanced consumer purchasing power. International trade has also brought about indisputable efficiency gains in agricultural production.”

Mr Lamy’s comments may well come as a surprise to the 75 million people across the global south estimated by the UN to have been forced into severe poverty since the recent round of global food price rises began in early 2008. He may even struggle to convince his own technocrats. According to the WTO’s own figures, global trade in agricultural goods and services has increased by nearly 350 percent following the signing of the  International Agreement on Agriculture in 1995. Over the same period, the IMP’s Food Price Index, providing a rolling average for a basket of 55 key commodities, has increased by 140 per cent.

International peasant farming organisation La Via Campesina, which claims to represent some 800 million smallholder farmers around the world,
has repeatedly called for agriculture to be removed from WTO control. Unlike clothes, computers or tyres, food is the only commodity controlled by the
WTO which is essential for human survival.

Pascal Lamy’s speech came nearly eight years to the day after Lee Kyung Hae (pictured left), a peasant farmer from South Korea, killed himself in front of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in protest at agriculture agreements.

www.viacarnpesina.org/en