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Farmers in world trade

By Andoni Arriola Garcia, Member of the Executive Committee of the Coordinator of Organizations of Farmers (COAG)

We are facing turbulent times in the European Union (EU) and, in general, in the Northern countries. Times of severe economic crisis, high unemployment, removal of basic rights, problems of child malnutrition, etc. Even though the context of an European is different from a person which lives in a developing country and the situation faced by a farmer of the old Europe seems to be far away from the difficulties of a producer in Africa, Asia or Latin America, the small and medium agricultures share the same problems both in the South and in the North and, therefore, they must be addressed as a whole.

The current financial, economic and trade policies have great influence for all rural people. Multinational companies and large groups of investment funds condition the markets and agricultural policies, pushing towards further deregulation, which facilitates their speculative business. The power of these multinationals is growing, and they are even taking advantage of the widespread crisis.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the free trade agreements, like the one currently being negotiated between the EU and the United States (US), aim at building a "free" and speculative market also in agriculture and food, relocating productions from one place to another that offers the lowest cost. Neoliberal policies decided at the WTO and those agreements destroy the social and sustainable agriculture and impose an agribusiness model, an industrial and intensive agriculture, dedicated to export. Large multinationals are the ones which take decisions on agriculture and food.

Agriculture and food cannot continue being part of the WTO negotiations and free trade agreements. Food sovereignty of peoples must be respected and a healthy, sustainable and generator of life farming model must be recovered, respecting the non-negotiable right to food all over the world. This implies the capacity to protect the domestic market and the rejection of dumping in agricultural exports, highlighting the relationship between the importation of cheap food from third countries and the weakening of local farming.


From this perspective, the Coordinator of Organizations of Farmers (COAG) has criticised the current system for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support in the EU. It is a system in which 80% of beneficiaries receive about 17% of the EU aid level. The current CAP continues on the path of deregulation and deepens its deviation from its founding principles which looked for a decent income for producers with a reasonable price for the consumer. The CAP has been increasingly linked to the logic of the WTO. This logic is harmful for most of the global farmers, either in South and North.

COAG considers the economic and social development of the Global South countries and citizens very important, especially for the farmers and those who live in rural and disadvantaged areas. However, promoting the development of third countries exclusively through large export productions, and forgetting the concept of food sovereignty does not encourage the food supply for the people of those countries and generates imbalances in domestic markets, because when export productions cannot be sold abroad, the product remains in the internal market, breaking its stability.

Trade facilitation will be costly for developing countries, but it will ensure large benefits for multinational companies. As evidenced by the report on the World Trade in 2013, "80% of US exports are managed by the 1% of the largest exporters, 85% of European exports are in the hands of 10% of large exporters and 81% of exports are concentrated in the five major exporters in developing countries".

On the other hand, traditional productions of these countries are abandoned and the export benefits do not fall into the bulk of the population, but only in a small number of beneficiaries, in many cases foreign companies that do not favour the endogenous development. Moreover there is a grabbing of limited resources, such as water and land, by developed and emerging countries. The production conditions to which farmers in the South are forced in many cases are deplorable. They must leave their family and traditional models to follow an industrialised agriculture, linked to the use of pesticides, genetically modified organisms and regrettable working conditions.

It would be absolutely necessary to verify the impact of trade liberalisation with the aim to demonstrate the real benefits in the respect for the environment, in the labour rights and in the local economic and social development. In this regard, the principles of Fair Trade can be used to modify a perverse global business model and a globalisation that benefits only a few. Dialogue, transparency and respect, seeking greater equity with an eye to social and environmental criteria, can contribute to sustainable development and improving the rights of farmers around the world.


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