Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 30, 2008
My colleague in Mexico City, Geri Smith, writes regarding the collapse of trade talks in Geneva:
In the end, it’s so ironic that at a time of high worldwide food prices, developing countries that would normally be totally justified in trying to protect their local farmers from import surges of inexpensive foodstuffs were fighting to defend that right even when it’s not currently necessary—because of the record-high prices.
But it’s not hard to understand where countries like India and Indonesia are coming from—in “normal” times their huge local populations of subsistence farmers could be crushed by surges of cheap food imports. If they had agreed to give up the right to this mechanism now, it might have come back to bite them a few years from now, if food prices drop. It was a classic division between food exporters vs. traditional food importers.
While you can agree intellectually that the world is probably better off because of the overall reduction of trade barriers under WTO, poor countries that are ill-equipped to “protect” their local population from import surges or that aren’t well-organized enough to teach/train local populations to be more efficient farmers or to organize themselves better in cooperatives are always going to get the short end of the stick in these trade deals. If it becomes cheaper to import corn from super-efficient U.S. farms than to produce it on smaller, inefficient peasant subsistence farms, then local governments are going to just figure it’s easier to import the corn, and that leaves the subsistence farmers dangling.