UN human rights expert criticizes WTO on agricultural trade

April 2, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- AFP via The Agribusiness Examiner: A UN human rights expert on [March 30] slammed the World Trade Organization's handling of agricultural trade, saying countries should be allowed to opt out of liberalization to ensure their populations are fed adequately.

"Today, agricultural trade is far from being free, and even further from being fair," the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, said in a report.

Market forces could not stop hunger and the organization's 146 member states should place the emphasis on "food sovereignty", he explained.

"A country could, for example, not only reject measures for liberalization, but also introduce protectionists tariffs for a particular agricultural product," Ziegler told journalists.

WTO member states are engaged in difficult negotiations to try to bring down barriers to agricultural trade.

Developing countries want an end to subsidies in countries such as the United States and the European Union states, which they say effectively price a poor country's produce out of world markets.

Another group of smaller countries, which includes Japan, Norway, Switzerland, and South Korea, want to keep some barriers to market access for farm products to preserve small-scale, vulnerable farming communities.

Ziegler admitted on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission here that his ideas "clash head-on" and "break with the logic of the WTO".

Poor peasant farmers account for three quarters of the world's 1.2 billion poorest people and should "be able to feed themselves in dignity", Ziegler said in his report to the Commission.

"Models of export-oriented agriculture that threaten the livelihoods of millions of peasant farmers should be reviewed," the report said, criticising the dominance of food and agricultural multinationals in world trade.

The report estimated that 840 million people are undernourished even though production was enough to feed the whole of the world's population.

"Hunger is neither inevitable nor acceptable. It is a daily massacre and a shame on humanity," the report concluded.