A No Good Bali Package, Colltalers
By most accounts, the 159-nation World Trade Organization conference that ended Saturday, in Bali, Indonesia, hasn’t accomplished much. And that ignites yet another round of scrutiny about the WTO’s own relevance as a moderator with regulatory power over international commerce.
For despite approving measures that will lower even more barriers and potentially increase global trade in some $1 trillion dollars in the near future, the crucial issue of agricultural subsidies failed to gain traction and was all but disavowed by the wealthiest and biggest food exporting nations.
At its core, the issue boils down to whether big multinational corporate farms, which produce close to 50% of the food the world consumes and control much of the land where it’s produced, regardless of country, deserve to continue receiving multimillion dollar government aid packages.
On the other side of this equation, sits a myriad of small farms, still crucial to local economies throughout the developing world, which are being squeezed out of global trade, plagued by unfair competition from the big boys, and diminishing resources for a viable model of subsistence.
Thus the ‘Bali Package’ is more like a workable primer of the state of current global trade, as it prioritizes the lowering of trade barriers, so countries with the muscle to increase food exports can also optimize profits, while leaving intact the issue of fairness of competition for small farmers.
The hopes of anti-poverty groups and food sovereign advocates were dashed when the WTO meeting chose not to press on steps that would increase environmental protections, improve farm labor regulations, and reaccess the organ’s role in boosting measures to reduce global hunger.
In the end, it was a victory for big corporations such as Monsanto and Tyson, and government policies of food-producing countries that focus on their agricultural goods-dependent economies and trade policies, regardless of the miserable conditions on the ground where they’re produced.
The irony of it, and believe us, there’s always some kind of cruel irony to be added whenever these expensive multi-country bodies gather, is that the meeting took place in Indonesia, a notorious ground of some of the world’s worst labor violations, including child labor e other abuses.
Just as Southeast Asia’s largest economy continues to contract (it reached its slowest pace of growth in four years, partly on its misguided protectionism policies), population growth in and around it is not expected to slowdown any time soon from its current over a billion people.
That obviously means more mouths to feed, and more pressure on the region’s assortment of fragile democracies, semi-restrictive regimes, and generally tumultuous politics, with strong undercurrents of religious fundamentalism and the threat of military radicalism still reeling from its recent past.
Such explosive mix keeps busy both environmental and human rights organizations, as well as a not negligible continent of geopolitical hawks that use the argument to successfully lobby for more armaments and inflated military defense budgets everywhere (specially, of course, in the U.S.).
There were, however, modest advances arduously pushed through during the WTO meeting, such as some temporary protections for food security policies, which are supposed to be part of a larger set of rules to be implemented next year. Few are holding their breaths for it to happen, though.
The underlying theme of the current state of global trade relations, with its emphasis on facilitating measures for cross-border exchange of goods, and little attention to the implicit inequalities driven by the huge gap separating the nations that have and those that have not, lies elsewhere though.
It’s of little consequence to pressure developing nations, whose agricultural goods form the core of their trade balance and, in many cases, are the effective pillar of their economies, to stop diverting so much of their wealth and natural resources to boost food exports at any price.
That’s why the reason to be and fate of organizations such as the WTO are so much in question. Because no rich country, or bloc of countries as in the case of the European Union, will voluntarily overrule their own corporations and push for a more equalitarian model of global trade.
That is, or it should be, the WTO’s role, and GATT, which preceded it, since it’s part of its charter to ensure ‘a level playing field for all,’ and to take measures to protect ‘not only the environment but also public health, animal health and plant health.’
To anyone familiar with the terrible living conditions of food workers all over the world, including the seasonal migrants in the fields of the U.S. food belt, the WTO has been a shameful failure, and has managed to accomplished little to nothing to fulfill at least this part of its mission.
More disgusting is the fallacy that issues concerning population explosion, food production, and trade among nations, are virtually impossible to tackle without subjecting impoverished nations to ever more hardship. And that the only way we’ll survive is to burn forest to produce more food.
It’s sad because while the rest of the world is forced to swallow such utterly false and ugly rationale, rich nations afford themselves the benefit of delaying measures to curb carbon emissions, reduce food waste, improve their own food workers’ living conditions, and promote social equality.
Rampant unemployment, homelessness, hunger and the appalling lack of health support that are now more than ever common sights of rich cities, while the stock market soars and corporate profits double, seem all to reflect a worldwide trend of absurd distribution of resources among nations.
As fewer people and larger corporations increasingly control and manage the majority of the planet’s wealth, the WTO once again has failed to fulfill its mandate, and ignore the reality that truly free global trade is only possible, and enduring, as an instrument to implement social justice. WC