Posts Tagged ‘WTO’
From within India (Bharat, we call it) there are ever more worrying signs that the club of rich and inter-connected global corporations, financial entities and their political patrons are working in concert to fulfil their programme of rapid and sweeping change in the country. Inside India, the government of the day, a technical coalition led by the Congress Party (the Indian National Congress it its full name) has for the past two years ignored widespread public movements against corruption, against the rise in food prices, against the blatant manner in which the country’s political and industrial elite has thrived in conditions that have led to the continuing impoverishment of the rural and urban poor.
This group includes politicians and their families and cronies (regardless, mostly, of party and political affiliation (the parties of the Left excepted)), what is commonly referred to as ‘India Inc.’ by which is meant the country’s large and medium businesses, led by all those who have found inclusion in the list of the top 100 most wealthy Indians (see the latest odious ranking by Forbes magazine’s India edition), and it also includes the senior corporate and industrial associations in India and abroad (several based in the USA, which bring together the most exploitative elements of the American capitalist class who find common cause with their Indian counterparts, and who can count on the strengthening of Indo-American ties whether economic, financial, defence, agricultural or scientific to pursue their agenda) which are regularly and well represented in the World Economic Forum for example. Also ranged against the Indian (the Bharatiya) proletariat are the OECD, the IMF, the World Bank, the ADB, the several dozen thinktanks funded through government back channels and innocuous-sounding foundations apparently dedicated to ‘low carbon’ growth or ‘sustainable development’ or even water and sanitation – their cover stories all sound alike.
And it is this group that sets the agenda for India between now and say 2020. The signs of how the concert is directed become plainer to see with each passing month. Let us look at a few of the many signals that have come to public attention recently. The most recent is the ‘Second Quarter Review of Monetary Policy 2012-13′, by the Reserve Bank of India (the country’s central bank), which was released at the end of October 2012. This report bemoaned the “global slowdown and uncertainty” amidst which “the Indian economy remains sluggish, held down by stalled investment, weakening consumption and declining exports”. In this report however the governor of the RBI said that “recent policy initiatives undertaken by the Government have begun to dispel pervasive negative sentiments… As the measures already announced are implemented and further reforms are initiated, they should help improve the investment climate further”.
Now consider a report released by the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) entitled ‘India – Sustaining High And Inclusive Growth’ (pdf). This is part of the OCED’s ‘Better Policies’ Series, a sinister name for strong-arm pressure which the OECD describes as promoting “the OECD’s policy advice to the specific and timely priorities of member and partner countries, focusing on how governments can make reform happen“.
Reform according to the OECD and the agents of primitive accumulation means turning the rural and urban poor into households dependent upon hand-outs, destroying the public sector, turning over public goods to corporations, shutting down social sector services like healthcare and education and turning them into profit centres for corporations using methods like public-private partnership. ‘Reform’ also hastens the creation of that class so beloved of the global marketers and their comrades in our government whose effort it is to purloin resources, engender urbanisation, monetise an apology for tertiary education in the name of ‘faster and more inclusive growth’ – it has done so in China (under a quite different guise) and is doing so in India. Consult this product, ‘The $10 Trillion Prize: Captivating the Newly Affluent in China and India’ (Harvard Business Press Books) which breathlessly advises: “Meet your new global consumer. You’ve heard of the burgeoning consumer markets in China and India that are driving the world economy. But do you know enough about these new consumers to convert them into customers? Do you know that there will be nearly one billion middle-class consumers in China and India within the next ten years? More than 135 million Chinese and Indians will graduate from college in this timeframe, compared to just 30 million in the United States?”
This is what the OECD report has said about India: “The potential for sustained strong growth is high. The Indian population is young by international comparison and this together with declining fertility has led to a falling youth dependency rate. The national savings rate is also high and, given favourable demographics, could well rise further in the medium term, providing the capital needed to fund investment in infrastructure as well as strong expansion in private enterprise. Furthermore, despite employment rising in the industrial and service sectors, around half of all workers remain in low value-added agriculture. The scope is therefore enormous for economy-wide productivity gains from the further migration of workers into modern sectors.” Indeed, who will then produce the food India needs for her modest and still mostly vegetarian diet?
What stands out here is the sort of language used, so common now in these inter-governmental circles of avarice and resource-grab, so worryingly mirrored in the pronouncements by India’s ruling coalition politicians and its central planners and their hired guns in compromised ‘research’ thinktanks and ‘policy advice’ units. Thus they have talked about fully reaping the “benefits of the demographic dividend” and of supporting “a return to high and more inclusive growth” (India’s Eleventh and Twelfth Five Year Plan documents reek of this statement). Thus they have repeated as a chant that “India needs to renew its commitment to sound macroeconomic policy and implementation of reforms”. The imperative given is clear and will be enforced by all arms of the executive and those opposing are threatened by punitive action, for they insist that “public finances on a sound footing and improving the fiscal framework so that persistent large deficits do not undermine macroeconomic stability and investor confidence“.
You see the importance given to ‘investor confidence’ by the governor of the RBI, by the OECD overlords and recently, by the prime minister of India Manmohan Singh. First, on 15 September 2012 he told a meeting of India’s Planning Commission that “the most important area for immediate action is to speed up the pace of implementation of infrastructure projects. This is critical for removing supply bottlenecks which constrain growth in other sectors, and also for boosting investor sentiment to raise the overall rate of investment“. Singh added that where “macro-economic balance” is concerned, the [Twelfth Five-Year) Plan (2012-17) "envisages a substantial acceleration of growth. This is critically dependent on raising the rate of investment in the economy. The investment environment is therefore critical." Second, on 20 September 2012 in a statement he made clarifying this government's decision to permit foreign investment in the retail sector he said: "We are at a point where we can reverse the slowdown in our growth. We need a revival in investor confidence domestically and globally. The decisions we have taken recently are necessary for this purpose."
Where is the common Indian, the resident of Bharat, in all this? The government of India and the Reserve Bank of India say they are worried that what they call “headline WPI (wholesale price index) inflation” remained at above 7.5% (calculated only over a year) through the first half of 2012-13 (that means April to September 2012). The truth is far more severe. Retail prices per kilogram of cereals and pulses have in every single city and town in India have increased, from early 2006, by between 180% and 220%. This when the daily wages for those who spend 55% to 65% of their income on food have increased over the same period by no more than 50%. And instead, the prime minister and his advisers say foreign direct investment will provide more jobs and better wages. Did 25 years of structural adjustment as rammed down the throats of millions of citizens in the countries of the South, by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in collusion with an earlier generation of elite accumulators, sound any different?
Ever since October 2011 when the world’s seventh billion person was born, there has been a new flurry of articles and prognoses about the need to increase ‘global’ food production to feed a ‘global’ population. While this may be all very well for earth systems scientists and researchers who are accustomed to dealing with planetary scale, those in charge of planning for agriculture at national and sub-national levels find it difficult enough relating to their own numbers (in India, the population of the smallest states are between 1 and 2 million, while that of the largest, Uttar Pradesh, is close to 200 million (!) which if it were a country would be placed between the fourth and fifth most populous countries – Indonesia and Brazil).
Through this year, numerous inter-governmental agencies and large organisations – including the FAO, WFP and IFAD – have discussed the need to be able to feed a population of nine billion, which we are expected to be in 2050 or thereabouts. And so says, recently, the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth And Bridging The Gap For Small-Family Farms’, which is the ‘Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency’ (12 June 2012).
Explaining that “the growing global demand for food, feed and biofuel is well established”, this inter-agency report has said that income growth will increase the quantity and change the composition of agricultural commodity demand. I find this approach a troublesome one because on the one hand there is growing recognition (even if corrective action is small and mostly symbolic) that consumption is to sustainable the way energy efficiency is to total energy use. Why are large agency and inter-agency reports continuing to skirt a matter which should be dealt with head-on – that consumption of food by the populations of ‘developing’ countries, on the lines of that practiced by the populations of OECD countries – cannot be encouraged by the food MNCs and the global food retail consortia?
It is because of this consistent refusal to see – and name – the elephant in the room that this report, to the Mexican G20 Presidency, has said: “Significant increases in production of all major crops, livestock and fisheries will thus be required”.
What are the estimates provided? “Estimates indicate that by 2050, agricultural production would need to grow globally by 70% over the same period, and more specifically by almost 100% in developing countries, to feed the growing population alone… ” I am puzzled by the easy acceptance of this simple equation by the following agencies and institutions, all of whom have contributed to this report: Bioversity, CGIAR Consortium, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, IICA, OECD, UNCTAD, Coordination team of UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis, WFP, World Bank, and WTO.
There is a mathematics here that is eluding me. The estimate is that from now until 2050, world population will grow around 30% – from the current 7 billion to an estimated 9.1 billion. However, if population grows at 30%, why must the available food (excluding biofuels demand) grow at 70% over the same period? It is extremely difficult for most people (earth system scientists excluded) to make sense of such large numbers. In order to break up large numbers into more familiar terms, I have (from UN’s World Population Prospects 2010) extracted the following data. These are the populations of France, DR Congo, Thailand, Turkey and Iran, these are the world’s 21st to 17th most populous countries (in that order).
In 2012 their populations are: France 63.5 million, DR Congo 69.6 m, Thailand 69.9 m, Turkey 74.5 m, and Iran 75.6 m. Let’s not try to strain to look ahead as far as 2050 (by which time some of us will have returned to our ecosystems as dust or as ashes) but look to 2027, or 15 years ahead. Then, the populations will look like this: France 67.7 million, DR Congo 99.6 m, Thailand 73.1 m, Turkey 85.1 m and Iran 83.7 m.
Thus we see that, as the ‘Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency’ has explained, it is indeed some ‘developing’ countries which will need to provide for considerably more food being grown and made available – DR Congo will have, in this short span of years, 30 million more people! Turkey will have more than 10 million more! The growth – again for the 2012 to 2027 period alone – is France 7%, DR Congo 43%, Thailand 5%, Turkey 14% and Iran 11%.
Does it then still make sense to speak of 2050 horizons and 2.1 billion more people when we are at best talking to national planners, sectoral administrators and thematically-oriented agencies accustomed more to district boundaries than continental spreads? I say it doesn’t – and the less time and money and conferencing we expend on these beyond-humanscale numbers the more sense we will make to those in need of guidance. The question then resolves itself as being more prickly, and more in need of hard answers – if the 30 million additional people in DR Congo are to choose a diet that has 50% less meat and 50% more indigenous vegetables and tubers and roots in it, will DR Congo still – over this period alone – need to plan for growing 43% more food (grain) to keep pace with population growth? Will Turkey need to do the same (time to encourage more çorbasi and less schwarma perhaps!)?
This is worth a close read for it reflects, in my view, the pull and tug of various opinions and convictions inside the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the single entity that we rely on the most to inform us about the state of cultivators, what they’re growing in our world, and who isn’t getting enough of those crops as food.
I have extracted some important paragraphs of this publication [get it here as a pdf], and commented on them. Here goes:
“At the level of individuals, people living on less than US$1.25 a day may need to skip a meal when food prices rise. Farmers are hurt too because they badly need to know the price their crops are going to fetch at harvest time, months away. If high prices are likely they plant more. If low prices are forecast they plant less and cut costs.”
Yes and no. The one-dollar-a-day global poverty line really ought to be done away with. It means nothing at national level and less within countries. Trying to equate real prices and actual consumption (in grams or hundred grams a day) with purchasing power parity-adjusted international dollars is generally a pointless exercise that generates lists and rankings that distract rather than inform. Anyway, the important part of what FAO said here is that when they’re under a certain daily income line, people can’t buy food to eat what they need to. The comment on farmers making decisions based on expected prices is a good one, something that most people miss, assuming that farmers are as interested in food security as academics are – which is quite untrue. For a farming household, sowing a field is a cost, and that cost needs to be more than recouped in order to make the decision to sow a good one.
“Rapid price swings make that calculation much more difficult. Farmers can easily end up producing too much or too little. In stable markets they can make a living. Volatile ones can ruin them while also generally discouraging much-needed investment in agriculture. Recognizing the major threat that food price swings pose to the world’s poorest countries and people, the international community, led by the G20, moved in 2011 to find ways of managing volatility on international food commodity markets. Under the presidency of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, the world’s 20 largest economies agreed that any strategy directed to that purpose should have the protection of vulnerable countries and groups as its main priority.”
Now here’s the FAO getting to grips with today’s problem. Rapid price swings is what we tend to call volatility – this can be volatility in retail food prices, or in input prices for farmers, or in offtake (purchase at the farm gate or local market) prices of harvested crops. I don’t see any stable markets the FAO is referring to here. Under Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the stability is constructed by coordinating a monstrous array of incentives and subventions – causing instability elsewhere in the world and particularly when that ‘elsewhere’ is importing (under duress) European agri products and processed food. But that’s another though related story.
The idea of “much-needed investment in agriculture” is an ill-defined one. The best investment a farmer can make, so goes an old Indian proverb, is that she walks the soil of her field every day with her bare feet – and that means for the farmer to till her land and come face to face with her natural resources and biodiversity. It is not the sort of investment the ‘market’ can understand. But FAO ought to, especially since it also has a Save And Grow programme aimed at addressing the organic, low input, community side of cultivation. This is an example of the contradictions in this FAO document. The “international community” is a tired and non-existent label, describing nothing while pretending to be collegial. Mediocre editorial writers still use it but no realists do. The G20 statement this time around may be a little less wishy-washy than it was last year, but that is scant comfort to the hungry or to the cultivators of small plots.
“Today’s turbulent commodities markets contrast sharply with the situation that characterized the last 25 years of the twentieth century. Between 1975 and 2000 cereal prices remained substantially stable on a month-to-month basis, although trending downwards over the longer term. For despite rapid population growth – world population doubled between 1960 and 2000 – the Green Revolution launched by Dr Norman Borlaug in the 1960s helped food supply to meet and even exceed demand in many countries, including India, thanks to the work of M. S. Swaminathan, then Director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.”
Oh dear. This is one step forward and three back for the FAO. It should not – not – go looking at Green Revolution history in an attempt to encourage beleaguered small farmers and consumers battered by food price inflation. Yes, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and CIMMYT (the CGIAR International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) will establish the Borlaug Institute for South Asia in India. This institute will be at the forefront of the so-called Second Green Revolution in eastern India (and thereafter sub-Saharan and East Africa). The kind of infrastructure demanded by the first Green Revolution by way of irrigation canals, dams with extensive command areas, provision of rural electricity to run pumpsets with, heavily subsidised inorganic fertilisers produced by a monolithic industry closely allied to the petro-chemicals industry and fossil fuel suppliers – all these were overlooked in the rush to raise yield per hectare. We do not want to see that being attempted again with public monies. It is this investment – rather this big fat public money pipe – which kept cereal prices “substantially stable on a month-to-month basis” in what used to be called the First World. It is not possible there now, it is not possible here (Asia and Africa) now. And that’s what FAO should have said, clearly and bluntly.
“In fact there was, in the Western Hemisphere at least, an over-abundance of food, caused in no small part by the generous subsidies which OECD countries paid to their farmers. But the picture today is a very different one. The global market is tight, with supply struggling to keep pace with demand and stocks are at or near historical lows. It is a delicate balance that can easily be upset by shocks such as droughts or floods in key producing regions.”
So it does try to say this, in a push-me-pull-you sort of way, but the truth is there is no delicate balance. Markets do not tolerate delicate balances because investors have no time for such niceties.
“In order to decide how, and how far, we can manage volatile food prices we need to be clear about why, in the space of a few years, a world food market offering stability and low prices became a turbulent marketplace battered by sudden price spikes and troughs.”
“The seeds of today’s volatility were sown last century when decision-makers failed to grasp that the production boom then enjoyed by many countries might not last forever and that continuing investment was needed in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure. In the 30 years from 1980 to date the share of official development assistance which OECD countries earmarked for agriculture dropped 43 percent. Continued under-funding of agriculture by rich and poor countries alike is probably the main single cause of the problems we face today.”
Why does the FAO continue stubbornly to see “investment” as an output of only, and exclusively, national agricultural research systems that are in the vast majority of countries government departments with little real connection to growers and household consumers, or are adjuncts of industrial agriculture multinationals? The seeds of volatility (FAO’s pun, not mine) were planted when commodity exchanges invented commodity futures in collusion with banks and investment consulting companies – production booms were not, in the ecological economics framework of measuring things, booms of any kind, nor were they seen in many countries other than the subvention-drunk OECD of the 1970s and 1980s. In this para, FAO has blundered clumsily by now apportioining some blame to “continued under-funding” while having already mentioned the “generous subsidies” years in the West.
“Contributing to today’s tight markets is rapid economic growth in emerging economies, which means more people are eating more meat and dairy produce with the need for feedgrains increasing rapidly as a result. Global trade in soymeal, the world’s leading protein feed for animals, has grown 67 percent over the past 10 years.”
Hear, hear. Type 2 diabetes and the burden of non-communicable diseases (see the WHO’s recent campaign) have also increased dramatically as a result of the wanton carpet-bombing of “emerging economies” (another revolting label) by the food-agbiotech-retail MNCs.
“Population growth, with almost 80 million new mouths to feed every year, is another important element. Population pressure is compounded by the erratic and often extreme meteorological phenomena produced by global warming and climate change. A further contributing factor may be the recent entry of institutional investors with very large sums of money into food commodity futures markets. There is evidence to suggest that food prices may have surged partly as a result of speculation. But there is considerable debate over the issue.”
Yes and no. FAO is right about the impact of population growth, about climate change (it has an enormous amount of documentation on the subject), about institutional investors and how they distort prices and about food speculation and its effects on street prices. There is plenty of evidence. There is not “considerable debate”, unless the FAO thinks that the angry bleatings of bankers to the contrary is some sort of debate. If so, it should consult its fellow UN agency, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which this year released a study titled ‘Price Formation in Financialized Commodity Markets: The Role of Information’. The UNCTAD experts who wrote this paper concluded that the commodities market isn’t functioning properly, or at least not the way a market is supposed to function in economic models, where prices are shaped by supply and demand. But the activities of financial participants, according to the study, “drive commodity prices away from levels justified by market fundamentals”. This leads to massively distorted prices, which are not influenced by real factors but by the expectation that economic developments will improve or worsen.
“Lastly, distortive agricultural and protectionist trade policies bear a significant part of the blame. In addition, with agriculture now substantially part of the wider energy market, any shock to the latter – such as unrest in a producing country – can have immediate repercussions on food prices. Responding to food price volatility therefore involves two different kinds of measures. The first group addresses volatility itself, aiming to reduce price swings through specific interventions while the other seeks to mitigate the negative effects of price swings on countries and individuals. One measure frequently invoked under the first heading is the setting up of an internationally held food stock able to intervene on markets to stabilize prices. But FAO’s view is that such a stock would be of dubious value, as well as expensive and difficult to operate. Also, government intervention in food markets discourages the private sector and hinders competition.”
Again the FAO push-me-pull-you is at work here, but the premier food agency has made some important points. The connection between agriculture and energy is one – and that means biofuels, which has a para to itself in the FAO document. Conflict is also brought in as a factor affecting prices – in how many food-producing and exporting countries is there now war or armed conflict? The idea of ‘strategic food reserves’ – which countries in South-east Asia and in the Persian Gulf region are pursuing – has been given short shrift, rightly in my view. But once again the FAO makes a tired attempt to placate the pro-WTO groups by bemoaning protectionist trade policies – which in WTO-speak means no barriers to entry for OECD food products anywhere so that all that accumulated legacy subsidy can pay back a little. Not acceptable, FAO folks. And to round off the contradictory para, the FAO statement again criticises “government intervention” as hindering competition. Governments have to serve their citizens according to constitutions and charters – these are internal matters and this is where sovereignty and self-determination come before market. Better believe it FAO. At least, for now.
This is a document which does much to ensure that there is a North-South development divide and which also ensures that the flow of ‘aid’, of ‘development’ theory and of ‘development’ competence is one way only – North to South.
In the World Risk Report 2011, the philosophy of this view of the world is as much political as it is racially biased. I’m sorry for having to say that as bluntly as that, but there’s no getting around it or away from it. You can’t dress it up in pseudo-scientific gibberish and expect readers in the Brown and Black Two-Thirds World not to notice.
This philosophy is contained in the six maps that describe, in this strange way, ‘risk’ to the countries of the world. As you can see, the pinks which represent risk are overwhelmingly in Africa and Asia and in general in countries of the South. The green hues represent little or no ‘risk’ and are used to shade the countries of the North – USA, western Europe, the OECD countries.
I have extracted the maps and provide their titles so as to better understand why ‘aid’, ‘development’, ‘technical assistance’ and ‘knowledge’ flows the way it does, helped along its magnetic North-to-South channels by arm-twisting, by WTO, by the World bank and International Monetary Fund and their lesser lending cousins in all continents, and particularly by the thousands of economists who have been installed in the countries of the South, who have been trained and programmed by these institutions, and who are the purveyors of disastrous neo-liberal economics and social destruction from Manila to Morocco.
Internationial aid agencies and their partners large and small will use documents such as this and indices of misery such as this to deepen the dependencies of the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable and the voiceless in the South, photographs of whom in poster size will nevertheless adorn the walls of Northern exhibitions and collaborationist Southern conclaves.
On to the maps. These are captioned with their titles and followed by short commentaries guided by the experiences of our ‘developing’ peoples and their tribal roots.
Map 1 – “susceptibility, dependent on public infrastructure, nutrition, income and the general economic framework”. What we say: True, true, public infrastructure in the Brown and Black Two-Thirds World is lousy, fly-ridden and stinks. But, comrades, have you noticed how the working classes of the First World have, for well over a decade now, been complaining mightily about privatisation and its ills? Susceptibility to nutrition? Why, now, we didn’t invent Starbucks and KFC did we? We’re the ones who like our indigenous millets and tasteful tubers to be untouched by GM. Income? No we’re flat broke. But listen to the moanings of the European Central Bank these days and you’ll notice we’ve plenty of company.
Map 2 – “lack of coping capacities, dependent on governance, medical care and material security”. What we say: Let’s take this governance thing first shall we. You comrades in the First World long ago, for reasons unknown to us but risky in the extreme, ditched your tribal roots and turned to markets and finance and supermarket shopping carts. Shame you did, for that was the abandoning, the throwing away, of the original caring sharing wise governance that’s brought humans through generations. Coping capacities is a good one. We hereby solemnly invite all friendly First World comrades to come and spend a week in our shanty towns, our barrios and our favelas where they can learn what coping is and how to go about it. For medical care we recommend to you a journey to Havana, Cuba. For material security we recommend to you a rereading of any holy book of your choice.
Map 3 – “lack of adaptive capacities, related to future natural events and climate change”. What we say: Comrades and friends, we don’t sadly have as many shamans, diviners and ancient wise folk as we used to, but we can surely tell you this: future natural events and climate change is not going to choose between us and you, and you and them. We’re all in this together, you with your food coupons and us with our kitchen gardens. Adaptive? I do think we’ve got that covered good and proper.
Map 4 – “exposure, of the population to the natural hazards, earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise”. What we say: Friends and fellow inhabitants of Gaia, if we stop making Mother Earth angry every single day, She may relent. It’s up to you too. Oh and as for exposure, we’re used to it, you’re not, sad but true.
Map 5 – “vulnerability, of society as the sum of susceptibility, lack of coping capacities and lack of adaptive capacities”. What we say: Well, we’ve had quite enough of these colour combinations now. Our sincere and heartfelt advice is that you turn us all the same shade of pink, or turn us all the same shade of green. But that will ruin the difference between Us and Those Danged Others, you protest. Dear comrades, we do share the same air, water and sky. It’s about time you stopped seeing people coloured differently and started seeing people.
Map 6 – “world risk index as the result of exposure and vulnerability”. What we say: We must correct you. The real risk is to your perception, friends, which you can remedy by coming to live with us and learning our ways.
More about the World Risk Report 2011 – “The Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) publishes the World Risk Report to examine these issues at the global level and to draw conclusions for future actions in assistance, policy and reporting. The core of the World Risk Report is the World Risk Index, which was developed on behalf of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. The World Risk Index indicates the probability that a country or region will be affected by a disaster. The index is the result of close cooperation between scientists and practitioners. Experts in the analysis of natural hazards and vulnerability research as well as practitioners of development cooperation and humanitarian aid have discussed and developed the concept of the index. Globally available data are used to represent the disaster risk for the countries concerned.”
“In the framework of the World Risk Index, disaster risk is analysed as a complex interplay of natural hazards and social, political and environmental factors. Unlike current approaches that focus strongly on the analysis of the various natural hazards, the World Risk Index, in addition to exposure analysis, focuses on the vulnerability of the population, i.e. its susceptibility, its capacities to cope with and to adapt to future natural events as well as the consequences of climate change. Disaster risk is seen as a function of exposure and vulnerability. The national states are the frame of reference for the analysis.”
[World Risk Report 2011, Published by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) of Germany in cooperation with: United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security, Bonn (UNU-EHS)]
The TripleCrisis site has an entry on the little-known Food Aid Convention. Negotiators from member countries of the Food Aid Convention (FAC) are meeting to hammer out details of a new agreement. The FAC is an obscure international treaty that dates back to 1967 under which donors pledge a certain amount of food aid. It is the only international agreement where donors pledge to provide a minimum amount of aid.
Last renegotiated in 1999, the FAC is now more than 10 years out of date. It was supposed to have been updated in 2001, but instead has limped from extension to extension on the hopes that the Doha Round of trade talks, which include new rules on food aid, would be completed first. Finally, following a major food crisis in 2007-08 and continued food price volatility, donors have realized that the FAC must be updated to take the new situation into account, even in the absence of a Doha agreement. Read the rest here.
Legal action has been taken against the EU Commission, suing the EU’s executive in the EU General Court for withholding documents related to the EU’s free trade talks with India. The Commission is accused by Corporate Europe Observatory of discriminating in favour of corporate lobby groups and of violating the EU’s transparency rules.
The case concerns 17 documents including meeting reports, emails and a letter, which the Commission’s trade department (DG Trade) sent to industry associations including BusinessEurope and the Confederation of the European Food and Drink Industry (CIAA). While these corporate lobby groups received full versions of the documents, the Commission only released censored versions to Corporate Europe Observatory, arguing that full disclosure would undermine the EU’s international relations. The censored sections relate to allegedly sensitive information about priorities and strategies in the ongoing trade talks with India including issues such as tariff cuts, services, investment and government procurement liberalisation and health standards.
(Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making. This corporate capture of EU decision-making leads to policies that exacerbate social injustice and accelerate environmental destruction across the world.)
What is at stake is whether the Commission can continue its practice of granting big business privileged access to its trade policy-making process by sharing information that is withheld from the public. This practice not only hampers well-informed and meaningful public participation in EU trade policy-making, it also leads to a trade policy that, while catering for big business needs, is harmful to people and the environment in the EU and the world.
The efforts to gain access to the information began on 5 June 2009. Corporate Europe Observatory filed an access to documents request for correspondence and reports from meetings between the Commission and corporate lobby groups, in which the ongoing free trade talks with India had been discussed. The purpose of the request was to monitor whether the Commission was shaping its negotiating position based on the public interest or only on the demands of large corporations. Previous research had shown that DG Trade had disregarded the concerns of small enterprises, trade unions and NGOs when it drew up the EU’s 2006 Global Europe trade strategy.
So, there was every reason to monitor the involvement of big business in the trade negotiations with India. After multiple deadline extensions and a complaint to the Commission’s General Secretary, DG Trade finally responded on 29 April 2010 – nine months after the statutory deadline. The response contained a list of more than 170 documents from 2008 and 2009 identified by DG Trade: meeting reports, emails and letters. Out of these, 50 documents were only partially released. More than 30 documents were withheld in their entirety, including email exchanges and reports about meetings with pharmaceutical companies Sanofi-Aventis, Eli Lili and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as pharma lobby group EFPIA. They were involved in lobbying the Commission for tightened intellectual property rights in the future EU-India deal, which public health groups have slammed as a threat to India’s position as the pharmacy of the global South.
Twelve of the censored documents at the core of the lawsuit are meeting reports from the EU’s Market Access Advisory Committee (MAAC) and its working groups. They operate in the context of the EU’s Market Access Strategy and bring together Commission officials, EU member state representatives and corporate lobbyists who discuss regulatory barriers in key markets, developing joint strategies to get rid of them. Market access in India ranks high on the agenda in the groups dealing with postal and distribution services, cars, tyres, textiles, food safety and animal health measures.
Several of the issues raised by these groups have made it onto the EU’s list of the top priority barriers which prevent access to the Indian market. This means that they have been jointly challenged by the EU Commission in Brussels, its delegation in Delhi and by EU member states: in the free trade talks with India, at the multilateral level in the WTO and in all kinds of ‘dialogues’ with the Indian authorities, sometimes with the support of other trading power-hubs like the US or Japan.
The pork chops and chickens on European tables begin their lives far away on soybean plantations in Latin America, where the feed for European livestock is harvested. In every link of the new global food chain, agriculture has become more intensive, larger in scale, and more environmentally and socially unsustainable. Good Food World has discussed the soya trade using the findings of a new report.
The international tentacles of the food chain tie deforestation in Brazil and Argentina to factory-farmed livestock in Europe. International trade agreements like the World Trade Organization facilitated the global corporate agri-business network that delivers soybeans and maize from Latin America to giant pig and chicken holdings in Europe and finally to a handful of supermarket chains.The beneficiaries of deregulated trade in agricultural goods have been the international grain traders, the investors in Latin American plantations, and the largest meatpacking and supermarket chains.
Some of the highlights:
(1) Soy exports from Latin America fueled deforestation. Four-fifths of EU soymeal imports came from Brazil and Argentina. The demand for more soybeans has been a key catalyst for clearing 44.5 million acres of forests in these two countries.
(2) Powerful soy interests drive small farmers off the land. Soybean plantations in Argentina and Brazil average about 1,000 hectares, but can be between 10,000 and 50,000 hectares. These large farms concentrate the land in the hands of a cadre of powerful investors and landowners, hurting indigenous farmers. There have even been reported cases of exploitation and enslavement of soy workers in Brazil.
(3) Industrial soy plantations feed European livestock genetically modified (GM) feed. In 2009, Brazil and Argentina were the second- and third-largest cultivators of GM crops (herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant engineered seeds), growing 42.7 million hectares of GM soybeans, maize and cotton combined.
Forty-eight ministers of agriculture from countries large and small, poor and rich, met in Berlin to talk about food and about how people in their countries put two meals on the table. They ought to have got to grips with the prices question, they ought to have called for justice and equity, they ought to have represented what the poorest and most vulnerable in their countries want.
They didn’t. Instead, they have released one of the sorriest, weakest, most unfocused and pointless statements I have seen in recent years on the subject.
This piece of diplomatic puffery is called ‘Final Communiqué of the 3rd Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Summit 2011 in Berlin on January 22nd 2011′.
It explains: “At the ’3rd Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Summit’, agriculture ministers from 48 countries came together to exchange experiences and ideas on how trade at local, regional and global level could contribute towards food security. They are convinced that sustainable and regional production and an integrated, rules-based trading system, are prerequisites for making food security and the right to food a practical reality’.
And there you have it. Trade is the most important ingredient, as far as these ministers can see, for food security. The integration of trade is what is needed, and a trading system (conveniently, such as the one they refer to several times in the following text) is the ultimate answer. The paragraphs of their mercantile output have been added to the agriculture page. When you read it:
Note the heavy-handed propaganda techniques employed in this communiqué. “Economic growth” appears early, in the second para, and is found to be “inextricably linked” with the provision of sufficient and nutritious food.
Note that private investment appears in the third para and the ministers emphasise that it must increase. Of course R&D is all done privately now, and national agricultural research systems must be arm-twisted to turn over their best and brightest to the agribiz giants.
Note that “climate change”, some muddy notion of “responsibility” and an equally muddy notion of “sustainable” comes early in the communiqué. This is done so that the environmentalists cannot fault the ministers for ignoring ground realities, but is not explained by any operational directives arising out of this meeting.
Note that the term “integrated” is used early. I’ll explain the significance below.
Note that “markets” makes its first appearance in the text in para eight, and here “integration” is immediately linked to this term in the following para. This is sought to be justified by invoking ideas of food security and “global economic development”.
Note that “value creation” comes next as a keyword, and is attached to the idea of “producers” (who I am sure are not meant to be smallholder farmers) and the familiar tautology of “fair competition”.
Note that “smallholder” does in fact turn up in the following para (ten) but only as a recipient of “due regard” and only provided they “integrate” themselves with markets.
Note that “trade” is the glue which, in this view of the agricultural world, binds everything together.
Note that “markets” and a “trading system” are important enough to be in a puff para together.
Note that developing countries must be “supported” in the primary quest to remove “technical” and “institutional” “obstacles” to – what else? – trade.
Note that the Doha Development Round (which collapsed unceremoniously) is resurrected in para 14 as the new champion of this global agricultural vision.
Note that in para 15 the Doha Development Round is further held up as being a signal contributor to “global food security” and that this is vital to “the poorest countries”, a precondition of which the World Trade Organization chief negotiators are strongly urged to recognise.
Note that “markets”, “price” and “free and transparent” all appear in the same para (16).
Note that “price volatility” follows immediately thereafter, as being evident throughout the world (now just how did all that happen?) and therefore “risk-protection” measures are required (such as markets, of course).
Note that the statement ends with a hurried hodge-podge of a conclusion and a fireworks of “market” and “price”.
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) opened its 36th session yesterday (11 October 2010). It’s described as “a five-day high-level intergovernmental meeting” which “takes place against a background of recent increases in international food prices which pose additional challenges to food security”.
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) said the Committee aims to be “the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all relevant stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all. In its role as the cornerstone of the global governance of agriculture and food security, the CFS will be more effective in facing challenges to food security”.
I expected that now at least, when the price of food staples is rising the way it did in 2007, the FAO and its constellation of agencies and committees and task forces would quit moralising and get down to naming names and naming reasons for the rise in prices. After all, the FAO food price index is relied on by national governments, traders and commodity markets – all for different reasons of course. It’s absurd to imagine that FAO analysts cannot see the reason why those indices move.
But if you read FAO statements and press releases, it sounds as though the problems they are struggling to describe in real terms have nothing whatsoever to do with things like trade, speculative trading, hoarding, price gounging, dumping, trade rules, tariffs, embargoes and other instruments designed to beggar national neighbours and reinforce trading blocs.
The FAO still refuses to say that market forces – call it what you will, free market forces or speculative trade or consumerist economics – is very largely responsible for food shortages and food price spikes all over the world. If this 36th session of the Committee on World Food Security cannot, will not or dare not speak the truth, it may as well pack up and go home and save some money by disbanding.
As for the statements, sorry but we’ve heard it all before in varying shades of myopic optimism:
1) FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said “Global problems demand global as well as local solutions. The renewed CFS constitutes the required platform for debating global complex problems and reaching consensus on solutions.”
2) “This week marks the launch of a strategically coordinated global effort to draw on the combined strengths of all stakeholders engaged in the fight against global hunger,” said World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran.
3) International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) vice-resident Yukiko Omura said: “Investing in small farmers — improving their access to land, to appropriate technology, to financial services and markets, and responding to their other requirements — is the most effective way to generate a broad-based movement out of poverty and hunger.”
Messers Diouf, Sheeran and Omura, set aside your prepared statements and summon up the courage to tell the countries which support the FAO the truth about global food prices. Tell them about the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and free trade agreements and the conditions attached to development aid. Help your agencies do their work by being honest about the problem.