India’s fight for farmers, food security at WTO gets UN experts’ backing


Many small farmers in the developing world have been facing unfair competition from highly subsidised products exported by farmers from developed countries

Days ahead of the coming Nairobi meet of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for negotiations on a deal to liberalise global trade, United Nations (UN) human rights experts have backed the developing countries, including India, in their fight to protect the interests of poor farmers and traders as well as to shield food security programmes.

Significantly, the human rights experts opposed the attempts of certain developed countries to ensure that the ongoing Doha Round — with a ‘development’ agenda — is brought to a premature end at the December 15-18 Nairobi meet, and to replace it with a new Round incorporating “new” issues of interest to the rich world.

The ‘new issues’ that are being proposed to be discussed at the Nairobi meet include on environment, labour, e-commerce, global value chains, investment, competition policy and transparency in government procurement, which, according to some trade experts, are meant to indirectly open up markets in developing and poor countries.

There is no justification for defaulting on the Doha Round commitments, and such action may have a detrimental impact on human rights, according to the UN human rights experts — including special rapporteurs Dainus Pûras and Hilal Helver as well as independent expert Alfred de Zayas.

India has also rejected rich nations’ attempts to expand the ambit of the talks by introducing ‘new’ issues without completely fulfilling the Round’s ‘development’ dimension.

New Delhi has already sought the reduction of ‘huge / trade distorting’ agribusiness subsidies in developed countries, an effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (a trade remedy allowing developing countries to temporarily hike duties on farm products to counter sudden import surges and price falls, thereby protecting the interests of poor farmers), as well as a permanent solution to the issue of public food stockholding in developing countries for the purpose of food security.

The Nairobi meet will be the testing ground for the international community to place people before profits and to prioritise human rights above corporate rights, the UN human rights experts said.

Many small farmers in the developing world have been facing unfair competition from highly subsidised products exported by farmers from developed countries, which leads to the artificial depression in world food prices and agricultural dumping in developing countries, they pointed out. This, they added, directly causes unemployment and poverty in some sectors, in particular in the farming sector, dismantles local industries, impacts ways of productions and attendant ways of life, and triggers population migration.

The Doha negotiation mandate has stressed and prioritized the strengthening of special and differential treatment provisions under WTO agreements, which allows developing countries some exemptions from domestic support reduction commitments, they pointed out. It is essential to support developing countries’ efforts to progressively fulfil their obligations in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, they added.

If trade is to work for human rights and development it should contribute to (among others) the realisation of the rights to adequate food, the experts said in a statement.

If the Doha Development Agenda is replaced with a new Round, it could open the door to legitimising controversial bilateral investment treaties, as well as multilateral agreements such as Trans-Pacific Partnership (trade pact including the US and 11 Asia Pacific countries), the experts warned.

Not only will it introduce toxic Investor-State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms that undermine the policy space of countries, but above all, it will seek to impose mandatory regulations (regulatory convergence) – a process of harmonising standards – from labour rights to environmental protection; in fact, in general lowering these standards, a “race for the bottom” in human rights terms, they cautioned.

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