Free Trade Area of the Americas - FTAA


Trade Negotiations

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September 1, 2003

Original: Spanish
Translation: non FTAA Secretariat





Oxfam America is an international development and relief agency committed to developing lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and social justice. We are part of a confederation of 12 Oxfam organizations working together in more than 100 countries around the globe, including many in this hemisphere.

Before embarking on the subject of agriculture, I would like to make some comments about this process. First, I would like to acknowledge the good will expressed by the representatives of the various governments here this morning with respect to this meeting and the participation of civil society. I would also, however, like to point out that what we end up seeing in many cases, such as in the FTAA, is that words do not necessarily translate into deeds; it seems to be ‘all talk and no action’. It is in this context that I would like to endorse what my colleague from Colombia stated at the outset of this meeting on behalf of various civil society organizations, some of which are Oxfam’s counterparts, about how this meeting cannot be considered a consultation because it does not meet the necessary conditions for it to claim that civil society is participating fully in the process. The representative of the Government of Chile even pointed out that this is the first time in six years of negotiations that an exchange of this kind has been arranged with civil society. Civil society not only wants to be heard, however, we also want our contributions to be taken into account, and this demand needs to be recognized.

The transparency and openness that the representative of the Brazilian government spoke of is essential if our participation is to be at all meaningful, which means at least knowing the positions being assumed and the offers being made by our own governments. The representative of my government has claimed that the United States attaches great importance to consulting with civil society, but I can tell you from experience that the process has been more a matter of formality than a real exercise in consultation. We don’t know what offers our government is making, and although formal arrangements have been made for us to submit our opinions, the mechanism seems to be more like the suggestion boxes companies set up for their workers to hand in complaints and comments. In the end, the suggestions are never taken into account, and most of them are probably never even read. The point of the exercise is that people will feel better because they have had an opportunity to express themselves. But many organizations in the United States, including Oxfam, say that this is not enough.

But now let us turn to the subject under discussion today. Oxfam believes that trade can be an important engine for development and poverty reduction. Well-managed trade has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. In reality, however, the international trade system is governed by unfair rules and double standards that enable the wealthy nations and their large corporations to dictate the terms for integration with the world economy that respond to their own interests, at the expense of the poorer and less-privileged nations. In Latin America and the Caribbean, one quarter of the population lives in rural areas and depends directly or indirectly on farming. Of these communities, two thirds live in poverty, and over one half in extreme poverty.Eliminating such poverty and promoting sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean will require changes in trade rules to ones based on the recognition of the right to sustainable livelihoods for one and all.

The proposed FTAA ignores the unfair relationship between millions of individual producers and a few large buyer corporations, and it does not consider the need for governments to regulate the monopolistic behavior of transnational agribusinesses. Multinational standards are urgently needed to fight the dumping of cheap agricultural products by U.S. transnational corporations, as this unfair kind of competition in domestic markets forces prices to drop and is one of the most important causes for the collapse of rural livelihoods in the Latin America and the Caribbean. Oxfam believes that dumping of cheap products should be banned by:

  • Eliminating any subsidies that permit export below the actual production cost and strictly regulating credits for exports and food aid. It should be pointed out that the United States’ export credit guarantee programs, which the U.S. does not want to negotiate in the WTO, actually subsidize the commercialization activities of large agro-industrial corporations, and thus facilitate dumping.
  • Permitting importing countries to raise tariffs as a defense against agriculture dumping and to implement safeguards to protect their markets from cheap imports;
  • Reforming U.S. internal support policies in order to eliminate export dumping and reduce the anti-competitive concentration and monopolistic practices of large agribusinesses, and to instead promote food security, protect the environment, ensure the livelihoods of small producers and increase the prices of products to farmers.

The draft FTAA chapter on agriculture perpetuates the power imbalance among negotiating countries. While rich countries maintain protection for their agricultural sector, structural adjustment programs have forced the majority of Latin American and Caribbean nations to open their markets unilaterally, conceding many of their border and internal support measures. Oxfam believes that in order to provide fair access to markets for developing countries, the United States and Canada should:

  • Relinquish their claims for greater access to the markets of Latin American and Caribbean countries and renounce the minimum access obligations now codified in the WTO;
  • Unilaterally reduce the tariffs on products originating from the region, particularly those produced by the poorest farmers;
  • Eliminate escalating tariffs, which discourage value-added activities in the region.

Oxfam believes that a hemispheric agreement that promotes development should include special and differential treatment that recognizes the importance and vulnerability of agriculture in developing countries. This would require:

  • Flexibility to support an increase in food production directed toward rural development and basic food security crops;
  • Exemption from tariff reduction requirements for basic crops produced by small farmers;
  • Exception from commitments to reduce all internal support measures that pursue food security goals;
  • Creation of a special fund to support the production and marketing of small producers, with an emphasis on the elimination of barriers that exclude women from their benefits.

The FTAA negotiations consider agriculture for export as the goal of rural economic development, rather than considering it as one element within a broader plan to achieve sustainable livelihoods. Regional integration that favors development would include measures to increase public investment in rural areas, impose antitrust disciplines on transnational corporations and encourage alternative policies to increase the global prices of basic products. Further liberalization in Latin American and Caribbean countries in exchange for access to the U.S. market will have negative implications for farmers who produce goods for the domestic market and restrict the policy options for agricultural development. Oxfam believes that trade policy should promote market equity by:

  • Allowing all countries the flexibility to support small farmers through enterprises controlled by farmers, marketing boards and similar mechanisms;
  • Instituting disciplinary standards on the monopolistic behavior of the transnational agricultural trade and limiting the market distortions that this behavior can produce.

Oxfam believes that these changes in the rules for trade in agriculture are essential, as they are critical to ensuring the human right to food and poor countries’ right to development. Family agriculture still provides the highest number of jobs and a large part of the national income in the poorest areas of the Americas. The enormous gap that separates these proposals from the draft FTAA text on agriculture leads Oxfam to believe that the proposed FTAA is not consistent with the promotion of sustainable development in the Americas. An integral and radically different proposal is necessary, which provides the flexibility required for the governments of developing countries in the region to protect and promote the interests of their farmers, workers, women, indigenous people, and citizens, and thus restore their ability to choose their own development and poverty elimination strategies.

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