La Via Campesina / Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
La Via Campesina and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance jointly make this statement at the conclusion of the APEC meeting in Hawaii regarding the further negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
This statement is to express our alarm about the implementation and pursuit of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) across the Asia-Pacific Region, in particular the TPPA. In the wake of the collapse of the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organisation, national governments are seeking to promote the free trade agenda through FTAs. There is a growing web of FTAs between countries and/or regions, across the world. Australia is currently party to 6 FTAs with ASEAN, New Zealand, Chile, United States, Singapore and Thailand, as well as in the process of negotiating a further 9 FTAs; the TPPA, PACER-Plus; China, Japan, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The region and the world are still experiencing food, energy, financial and environmental crises. Many of these crises have been exacerbated by the removal of policy space for Government to respond as a result of signing free trade agreements.
These agreements directly threaten national food sovereignty and security. Currently, Japan’s farmers produce 40% of the country’s food needs, but, according to the Japanese minister of agriculture, this food self-sufficiency rate (calorie base) will drop to 13% if Japan signs the TPPA. The much greater import dependency of Japan will have a major impact on food sovereignty and security amongst other rice-producing nations. According to research conducted by Japan’s Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, the vastly increased level of rice imports by Japan following the signing of the TPPA will swell the ranks of the hungry across Asia by a further 270 million people, bringing the total number to 1.2 billion. This is a recipe for social chaos and political instability.
It is widely acknowledged that Bilateral and Regional Free Trade Agreements do not adequately address barriers to agricultural trade, with carve outs a regular feature. The Australia-US FTA made no impact on the very large US Farm subsidies, and gained very little additional market access for Australian farmers. The market access that was obtained is phased in over more than a decade, if at all. Sugar, for example, remains excluded from the agreement, in order to protect US sugar producers. Meanwhile , US farmers gained significant market access to Australia with tariffs removed on 99% of agricultural trade immediately.
These outcomes reflect the reality that Australia’s ability to obtain greater agricultural market access through the negotiation of bilateral and regional FTAs has been greatly reduced, since Australia has unilaterally reduced and removed quotas and tariffs, to the clear disadvantage of Australian producers.
The Australia-US FTA has directly led to farmers leaving the land. In the pork industry, for example, 70% of farmers have left the land following the entry into force of this FTA on 1 January, 2005. It has also exposed Australian farmers to disease not previously present in Australia, such as BSE and Hog Wasting Disease.
Just as Australia does not face a level playing field when competing against the US and their corporations, developing countries face that same unlevel playing field when compared to Australia. For example what developing country can follow Australia’s lead and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into marketing, research and development for their farmers?
The neo-liberal free trade agenda in agriculture is premised on the ideological concepts of “comparative advantage” and “specialisation”. This agenda leads to consolidation of agriculture under large, predominately US based, corporations, and to monoculture farming. A salutary example is Mexico, which went from being food secure prior to signing the North America Free Trade Agreement in 1993, to being food insecure and exposed to rapidly rising world food prices by 1996. Subsequently Mexico experienced riots linked to sharp increases of the price of corn during the food price crisis in 2008.
The social, environmental and ecological costs of increasing international agricultural trade through free trade agreements have not been addressed in the neo-liberal framework of free trade. These costs are not simply the increased use of heavy fossil fuels for transportation and the associated increase in pollution, but also include the increased use of chemical inputs, the social and environmental risks associated with genetically modified material, and the reduction in biodiversity caused by mono-cropping. Social dislocation, rapidly increased urbanization, and the resulting loss of community, are just three of the many social impacts which are not factored into the neo-liberal agenda on free trade.
The TPPA, if signed, will further liberalise goods, industry, services and investment in the greater Pacific Rim. The TPPA is mainly an initiative by the United States, as well respected economist Joseph Stiglitz states, “The bottom line is that there is no US commitment to free trade. It is really a commitment to getting other countries to give access to American producers to their markets, and the US reciprocates when it is convenient.”
The TPPA threatens peoples’ access to essential public services like healthcare, education, electricity and water. On the other side, access to food, jobs and productive natural resources for the people in the region will also be diminished because of exploitation by corporations. The US openly states that the TPPA is all about the US and ‘American jobs’.
Further liberalisation under the TPPA will violate the sovereignty of nations, communities and peoples. In particular, the provisions regarding the investor-state dispute settlement procedure severely curtails the right of national governments to regulate corporate activities in the interests of the general well-being of peoples on health, social and environmental grounds.
Previous FTAs have threatened peoples’ food sovereignty, especially as regards the right of local producers to receive a fair, locally determined price for their products; and in terms of these producers’ having secure access to their local markets. FTAs will continue to undermine our national sovereignty (especially of developing and poor nations), as these agreements are primarily intended to further entrench the existing dominant position of transnational corporations (TNCs).
At a time when the IMF and World Bank are calling for some (albeit inadequate) re-regulation of the international financial system, the US, through the mechanism of the TPPA, is pushing for further deregulation of finance. We need to re-regulate the international financial sector, and make it democratically accountable to peoples and national parliaments.
Workers’ rights are also in danger. FTAs and the TPPA will create flexible labor markets, and this will diminish existing levels of workers’ protections. Very low wages, temporary and casualised employment, outsourcing practices, and the lack of insurance and other protections are very real risks that many workers in our region will be exposed to, as a result of further trade liberalisation.
Meanwhile, there are many local, national and regional trade alternatives. We do not oppose trade, but we want trade that is based in justice and fair rules: trade that ensures no exploitation amongst peoples and nations. Such trade must respect human rights, uphold food sovereignty and ensures peoples’ access to essential public services.
To support food security and sovereignty we call for:
- Genuine agrarian reform for food sovereignty
- Implementation of the agro ecological revolution as the solution to climate change and peak oil
- Restructuring of the entire food system to prioritise the needs of people and ecosystems
- Full and equal participation of women in the new food system and in society as a whole
- An end to transnational control of our genetic resources
- Seed sovereignty, where locally developed seeds can adapt and mitigate climate change
- An end to the use of genetically modified material and the patenting of life
- The right to know - the what, where and why of our food.
La Via Campesina
Via Campesina is an international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. We are an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent of any political, economic, or other type of affiliation. Born in 1993, La Via Campesina now gathers about 150 organisations in 70 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
International Operational Secretariat:
Jln. Mampang Prapatan XIV no 5 Jakarta Selatan 12790, Indonesia
Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance advocates for a fair, sustainable and resilient food system for all Australians. We seek to reorient the food system in Australia and internationally so that the vitally important role played by the hundreds of thousands of actors in the non-corporate, non-agro-export sectors of the food system are recognised, valued and supported. This includes small and medium-sized farmers, market gardeners, small food business people who specialise in supporting Australian agriculture, the growing number of community-based social enterprises supplying the type of food their members want at an affordable price, the families and individuals who vote with their dollars to support our nation’s farmers and regional food economies and that fast-growing number of Australians who support food grown, processed and distributed sustainably and justly.