takes more time, fares…ag concentration hurts…international
By Br. David Andrews
Brother Andrews is active throughout
the U.S., spearheading the NCRLC in its advocacy of
policy issues relative to farming and food.
September 12: This morning
it took two hours to get from our downtown residence
to the NGO center at the Sierra Hotel. Increased security
measures mean that now we have to go downtown via the
longest route possible. The only entry point to the
hotel district of the WTO activity is a lengthy roundabout,
filled with traffic and very expensive, more than twice
the cost of getting back and forth to our in-town hotel...$200
pesos compared to $80 before.
And the long trip means lost time in the
meetings for which we've come here. NCRLC gave a presentation
late Thursday to a largely European constituency on
the situation of the concentration in agriculture in
the U.S. Our situation was paired with the plights of
producers of Peruvian coffee and West African cotton.
The commonality was the consolidation impacts in processing
and retail on prices producers receive.
We are finding a similar analysis from
people we've never related to or connected with before,
helping create more effective worldwide solidarity.
The host of the meeting, Bill Vorley from the United
Kingdom, graciously promoted NCRLC's partnership with
the Center of Concern in the Agribusines Accountability
Initiative* and the other efforts of NCRLC.
Bob (Gronski) and I attended a session
last evening on an alternative way of looking at subsidies
hosted by Institute of Agricultural Trade Policy (IATP).
It was an occasion for speaking with many of our NGO
partners informally as well as for cementing some common
We also visited with Jim Hug and Sister
Maria Reilly of the Center of Concern, comparing notes
on what we've heard regarding various trends in the
Today we're working on getting closer
contacts with Via Campesina, getting a briefing or two
on the substance of agriculture negotiations, and doing
The weather is hot and humid. We had a
break in the weather yesterday with some heavy rains.
Best wishes, Brother Dave
* For more information on AAI (www.agribusinessaccountability.org)
Asking the right questions…what
about Congress…drama on the barricades
By: Robert Gronski, NCRLC
Gronski works with projects and
policy issues, including efforts to develop a “water
ethic” in the face of a global shortage fresh
Thursday morning, September
11, 2003: Every day at 4 p.m., staffers of
the U.S. Trade Representative provide a briefing for
non-governmental organization (NGO) participants in
the packed conference room at the Gran Caribe Hotel.
At the end, we get to ask questions.
The spokesman for Ambassador Robert Zoellick repeated
on Wednesday that the U.S.
administration line that the United States is "very
willing to cut subsidies if others do so as well."
No doubt this is referring to the European Union. Then
a few minutes later, the spokesman added that cuts or
eliminations in American subsidies are also dependent
on "gaining market access overseas.”
It is interesting to note a contrast: At the NGO sessions
running in the shadows of the WTO ministerial meetings,
discussions often focus on the high levels of agricultural
subsidies for nations of the North. This is the "problem"
that must be dealt with. Whereas the "problem"
in the eyes of the U.S. authorities is market access
-- by the North into the South, not vice versa as would
seem to be a very big problem as well.
Speaking of problems, a couple questions from NGO participants
were directed at
the so-called consensus surrounding the U.S. negotiations.
How can the Trade Representative offer to reduce agricultural
subsidies when that decision rests in the hands of the
U.S. Congress? Has the Administration come to some type
of agreement with Senate and House agricultural leaders?
The spokesman did not say such an agreement had been
reached, but it was certainly part of the ongoing discussions
between the Administration and Congress. Then Br. Dave
Andrews posed a follow-up question: “Can we see
a list of the "Ag Trade Coalition"
members?” (This is a body put together to advise
the US Administration; it seems
to be composed of Senate and House agricultural committee
members, plus corporate agribusiness officials and perhaps
a couple actual farmers.)
The spokesman responded that this should be possible,
but no clear indication of
when or how this list would be made available.
Our routine, then, is to continue to show up at these
briefings and continue to ask such questions of the
Administration. If not much seems to come out of the
answers to our questions, at least our presence is made
apparent. Indeed, someone belonging to an animal welfare
group came up to Br. Dave later and wanted to hear more
about the work of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
(Humane treatment of animals and livestock is a trade
issue, and in fact has been part of the briefing reports.)
Later in the evening, Br. Dave and I attended the opening
reception of the Fair
Trade Fair. This three-day event is a combination of
small producers from
around Mexico and the Central American region who are
displaying their products
and a series of open forums on socially just and fair
We caught up with many of our friends in our sustainable
agriculture and family farm
networks. The outdoor event was festive, but muted by
a couple of developments
during the day. One was the increased security presence,
including a checkpoint set up right next to the Fair
Trade Fair venue. However, this did not seem to prevent
a good turn out to the opening ceremony.
Second was the demonstration at the main entry road
to the "hotel zone" and WTO
conference area. Mexican students and trade union groups
made up the largest groups. Efforts were made to tear
down the security fences blocking the road, and though
some feared a strong response from the Federal Police,
no tear gas or other strong-armed action occurred.
The most dramatic moments came from the Korean Confederation
of Trade Unions, who paraded with drums and a coffin.
Then to the utter disbelief of the crowd, one of the
Korean demonstrators committed hari-kari, plunging a
knife into his side. This became the morning headline
of local newspapers.
When Br. Dave and I passed by the area later that night,
police still controlled the movement of cars and buses,
but there was little indication of a mass protest. Some
of the damaged fencing was being hauled away, and only
a few banners remained. The next large demonstration
is planned for Saturday, September 13, when word of
WTO negotiations and agreements should be widely known.
The closing ceremonies are Sunday, and it is far from
certain what the governments of 40 WTO members will
achieve at their fifth ministerial meeting. Many continue
to say that no agreement is better than a bad one.