Skip to comments.Poverty, immigration and the WTO
Posted on 10/16/2005 10:03:59 AM PDT by hedgetrimmer
Part of the solution to the complex problem of African poverty rests on Western economies dropping trade barriers on agricultural products from the Third World. Mark Micallef looks at the World Trade Organisation's promise of a global free trade pact against the background of a growing influx of economic refugees.
More people will have died from extreme poverty during this week than were killed by the South-East Asian Tsunami last December.
The United Nations Development Programme estimates that a harrowing 30,000 people die from extreme poverty each day. Some 1.2 billion people - one in every five people on Earth - struggle to survive on less than $1 a day, while every three seconds a child dies from a preventable disease. A proportion of the 95 per cent of immigrants who land in Malta and who are not refugees, and who are labelled economic migrants, flee such realities.
The figures go on and on, yet concrete solutions to what British Premier Tony Blair recently described as "a scar on the world's conscience," are not very forthcoming.
The problem is not exclusively economic. Entire regions in Africa, for example, are plagued by armed conflicts and political unrest, not to mention corrupt administrations. However, economic problems remain one of the cardinal factors, so much so that the development, especially of the African continent, features on the agenda of practically all the major international summits.
Certainly it featured on all major summits held this year, also partly due to mounting pressure by global activists and worldwide campaigns such as Stop Poverty and Live 8. It was high on the agenda at Gleneagles' G8 summit and also on that of the recent United Nations summit in New York.
The subject is also expected to be discussed with some prominence at November's CHOGM held in Malta. Yet, while significant progress was made at the G8 meeting with regard to the cancellation of Third World debt, none of these meetings seems able to make the expected breakthrough in terms of fair trade.
At Gleneagles, for example, the G8 pledged to phase out export subsidies but failed to provide a clear deadline, critics pointed out. In terms of trade, the UN Summit was described by the man behind Live 8, Sir Bob Geldof as a "bloody scandal". "It clawed back on what was done at Gleneagles when it was really supposed to review progress made since the G8", Sir Bob was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Global free trade pact Hopes now are pegged onto the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting to be held in Hong Kong next December. The goal in Hong Kong is a new global free trade pact which, developing nations and their advocates are hoping, would give producers from poor countries access to Western markets especially in areas where they have a natural advantage; agriculture and textiles. Oxfam insists fair trade is only part of the solution and development aid must be increased, however, giving developing countries economic room to manoeuvre is an important step forward.
It is estimated that developed countries subsidise their domestic agricultural sectors to the tune of $1 billion a day. The EU's subsidies, for instance, equate to more than $2 per cow per day, Oxfam estimates.
These subsidies, compounded by tariffs, result in the flooding of the markets with cheap surpluses - a practice referred to as dumping.
In so doing, a report produced by Oxfam argues, the leaders of the free world and preachers of free trade on one hand stifle the economic possibilities of countries like Eritrea and Somalia and on the other hand inundate the market with crops wasting both money and foodstuffs.
An agreement in Hong Kong, besides opening up certain new markets for the Western economies, promises to change this by giving the largely agrarian economies of developing nations new scope. The foundations for the meeting were laid during another WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar, four years ago. The target date for the conclusion of what is now known as the Doha Round had to be December last year but this was extended to the end of next year. In Doha, the WTO members agreed to start working on a programme which should give least-developed countries duty-free, quota-free market access for their products.
This week, 20 WTO members met in Geneva in a bid to forge some sort of consensus on an outline agreement before the actual meeting in Hong Kong. In fact, the US on Monday launched an offer to end its farm subsidies by 2010.
European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson reacted almost immediately, saying in a statement that the EU would match and even go substantially beyond a 60 per cent cut in the most trade-distorting measures proposed by the US.
Since then the reports coming out of the negotiations in Geneva were diverging.
World Development Movement policy director Peter Hardstaff was reported criticising the US offer on the grounds that the proposals would in practice see America give with one hand and take from developing nations with the other.
In order to gain concessions on farm subsidies, poorer countries would have to agree to sweeping cuts on industrial tariffs and open their markets to service firms, he emphasised. "It's a choice between short-term gain on agriculture and long-term development opportunities."
Oxfam also shrugged off the offer. "What looks on the surface like a genuine attempt to move the talks forward is in fact a very clever piece of manoeuvring by the US. This proposal would allow them to get away with doing next to nothing in return for some very painful concessions from developing countries. The devil is in the details, and these details are very devilish indeed.
"With the proposed plan Washington would be able to get away with cutting agricultural support by less than $2bn, while the EU would cut by only $3bn," Oxfam said.
Trade sources in Geneva told The Guardian they believed there was room for deeper cuts in support for western farmers, but pointed out that at least the proposals provided an opportunity to break the deadlock.
The WTO's own director-general, former EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was reported by Reuters making cautiously optimistic comments about the ongoing talks. "I think the engines of the negotiation plane have been switched on again," he said, referring to signs of progress from meetings between ministers from key WTO members this week.
"This is no guarantee (of success), a lot of work remains, but at least the engines are buzzing," he told journalists.
EU's Common Agricultural Policy The European Commission proposed the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 1960. In line with the foundation concept of the same Union - to unite Europe towards a common goal of prosperity in the aftermath of World War II - the CAP transformed the food shortages after the war into a surplus.
However, the system has increasingly come under fire both by environmentalists and development advocacy agencies such as Oxfam. Oxfam accuses the EU of double standards when it spends around $41 billion a year on agriculture subsidies, which, among other things, bar exports from some 49 least-developed countries from entering the Union's market. This at a time when the Union, together with the US and other developed economies pressure developing countries to liberalise their own economies, Oxfam insists.
The subsidies issued to EU farmers represent about 50-70 per cent of the Union's spending. The Union has agreed on reforming the CAP to cut subsidies by as much as 70 per cent by 2013. However, Oxfam is saying this is not enough.
What's in it for Malta From the agricultural and trade barriers perspective, Malta's position in Geneva is being represented by the EU Commission. The Permanent Secretary at the Environment and Rural Affairs Ministry Philip von Brockdorff told The Times when contacted that a technical representative from Malta is in Geneva and will be in Hong Kong.
"Malta's position, however, in terms of the WTO talks is sealed with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which started in 2003. The pre-accession agreement Malta negotiated with the EU is in line with the CAP reform which, in turn, follows the lines of talks in Doha."
Since 2003 there have been unsuccessful attempts to push the reform further, the most notable example being that of the recent EU summit discussing the union's budget. But the summit ended in failure precisely because of disagreement on reforms in the CAP.
Malta will be assisting its farmers until 2013, after which assistance will only be in the form of what the WTO calls "green box" aid measures, meaning state aid which does not distort the market. Production subsidies will not be allowed anymore.
"We're talking instead of subsidies for re-doing rubble walls, for example," Mr von Brockdorff explained. The targets of the local reform are based on the assumption that by 2013, the local sector would have been restructured in a way that it needs no direct production subsidies, he confirmed when asked.
"While there is a long way ahead, the sector has already made considerable leaps of quality which is what the government intends achieving in the sector - a change from quantity to quality," he added.
Looking at the wider picture, illegal immigration has brought to light the grim realities of Sub-Saharan Africa.
In a recent interview with The Times, Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg confirmed that the majority of immigrants who land in Malta come from the Sub-Saharan region, particularly the so-called Horn of Africa, one of the most impoverished regions in the continent.
Lobbying for development aid for developing nations, which are the countries of origin, forms part of the government's long-term strategies in tackling illegal immigration, Dr Borg had told The Times. Moreover, Malta is a signatory to the agreement establishing the Millennium Development Goals, agreed upon unanimously by the UN member states in 2000. One of these goals is the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015.
The UK's EU rotating presidency has adopted these goals and made them an integral part of its programme.
The groundwork is there, it is up to the politicians and the people who elect them now to take up the challenge and make 2005 the year in which the world truly took the road to end poverty.
In the time it takes to read this article it is estimated that over 200 people, many of them children, would have died of poverty.
Fact Box Migration from Africa
¤ By 2015, one in 10 Africans will live and work outside their country of origin. Nearly 20 million African men and women are currently migrant workers.
¤ In 1960, the "income gap" between the wealthiest and the poorest fifths of the world's population was 30 to 1. By 1999, it had widened to 74 to 1.
¤ Global unemployment, currently at some 180 million people worldwide and growing, is at its highest point ever.
¤ The HIV/AIDS pandemic is eroding development in Africa by decimating the workforce and destroying families. Deaths in countries with high levels of HIV and AIDS will cause huge losses of labour over the next decade.
Source: International Labour Organisation
¤ More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day, 300 million are children.
¤ Of these 300 million children, only eight percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 per cent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency.
¤ Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation and the large majority are children under the age of 5.
Source: UN Millennium Development Programme
Agriculture and trade barriers
¤ In 1960, Africa was a net exporter of food; today the continent imports one-third of its grain.
¤ More than 40 per cent of Africans do not even have the ability to obtain sufficient food on a day-to-day basis.
¤ Declining soil fertility, land degradation and the AIDS pandemic have led to a 23 percent decrease in food production per capita in the last 25 years even though population has increased dramatically.
¤ For the African farmer, conventional fertilisers cost two to six times more than the world market price.
Source: UN Millennium Development Programme
UN Millennium Development Goals Unanimously the UN members committed themselves to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
¤ Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger(¤ Achieve universal primary education ¤ Promote gender equality and empower women ¤ Reduce child mortality
¤ Improve maternal health
¤ Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases ¤ Ensure environmental sustainability ¤ Develop a global partnership for development
¤ Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger((wealth redistribution)
¤ Achieve universal primary education(no child left behind!)
¤ Promote gender equality and empower women(Hillary's China project)
¤ Reduce child mortality
¤ Improve maternal health
¤ Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases((Bush's gift of $15 billion to Africa for HIV/Aids)(
¤ Ensure environmental sustainability(tipping our hats to the International socialists environmental agenda to control private property)
¤ Develop a global partnership for development(world government)
In the Doha round, the US must take some of the "migrants" from Africa as well, so they can get their remittance money out of us.
That's right, there's nothing complex about the problem of African poverty. It is caused entirely by despotic rulers who ship every nickel to their personal bank accounts in Switzerland. What could possibly be complex about that?
"Free trade" doha round agenda.
And yet, how many white owned farms have they shut down to give to black people that don't know how to farm...
Improve maternal health.Euphamism for govt provided abortions.
Folks, we should all be writing to our Congressman to get him (or her) to co-sponsor HR-1146 (number?) aka; The American Sovreignty Restoration Act NOW.
If you are lucky enough to have a Congressman who has already done so, then by all means call to thank him and show your support.
Thanks so much for the information.