The Gatt Deal: Seeds sown for clashes with the Third World

MOST of the Third World is expected to benefit from the Gatt agreement, but Africa will be unable to take advantage from trade liberalisation and may lose from provisions to globalise the patenting of plants and seeds.

Developing countries, led by India and Malaysia, have complained that the agreement has not gone far enough and that rich nations are prepared to concede far more to each other than they are to poorer nations. The developing countries want a strong multilateral trade organisation to act as a court of appeal in disputes with the United States and the European Union.

Apart from these anxieties, this Gatt round demonstrated that since the last round of supranational trade talks in the late 1970s, most poor countries have developed their economies sufficiently to enjoy new trading opportunities. It shows that the Third World is not an undifferentiated economic condition embracing Asia, Africa and Latin America. Under the new agreement, Asia's cheap skilled labour will attract foreign investment and its textiles will find new markets. Latin America and the Caribbean will attract outside investment in new industries and find it easier to export manufactured goods.

Only Africa does not have the means to exploit the opportunities for trade. There are no new markets for the continent's primary products, which continue to fall in price. Africa's few manufactured goods are mainly exported to Europe under the Lome Convention, but this quota system will be dismantled under the new Gatt deal and Africa may lose out to comparable goods from Asia or Latin America.

A recent report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank predicts a fall in the price of cocoa and coffee, products which some African countries depend upon for foreign exchange. The report says that the coffee price will fall by 6.1 per cent by 2002 and the price of cocoa by 4 per cent. These price falls will cost Africa pounds 2bn a year by that date. The report forecasts a global rise in the price of some foodstuffs which may hurt some African countries dependent on food imports. It predicts that farmers in developing countries will not be able to benefit from this price rise unless they improve yields.

Calling for compensation for the world's poorest countries that lose out in the new Gatt, a recent Christian Aid pamphlet says that the terms of trade have turned against Africa so severely that in 1992 it had to export 37 per cent more of its products than in 1980 to buy the same amount of imports. Christian Aid calls on the European Union to protect the poorest members of the Lome Convention from the effects of the new Gatt.

Sheila Page, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, says: 'Africa is not going to gain . . . It is not exporting anything which is likely to gain in price. Every other region is likely to gain from the Gatt but Africa will be standing still - and will therefore be falling further behind. Its only hope is that there will be a more imports of primary products, but even if that happens their price won't go up as much as other goods.'

The global patenting of seeds and plants may have more serious long- term implications for less developed countries. The example of the Neem tree in India illustrates the potential clash between chemical and agricultural giants in the United States and Europe, and traditional farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In July thousands of farmers in Bangalore took to the streets to protest against the US chemical firm, W R Grace and Co, because the company had patented pesticides from the Neem tree. These trees have been planted and tended for centuries for agricultural and medicinal purposes.

The farmers argued that Grace's patent on the tree, which could become a global patent under the new Gatt, will prevent them using it. Grace and Co argued that their products from the tree were 'sufficiently new' to warrant a patent. The issue has implications wherever traditional medicines are used. There are fears that by registering these plants, multinational companies could prevent their use by local people or their development by local scientists.

The patenting of plants is crucial in agriculture. According to a report by the Overseas Development Institute, productive or pest-resistent strains of seeds have been developed by co-operation between commercial plant-breeders and local farmers. That co-operation is under threat because under global patent laws provided for in the new Gatt, small farmers in developing countries will have to pay royalties on seeds developed by seed companies and will not be allowed to resow commercially produced and patented strains or even strains mixed with patented brands.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
peopleComedian star of Ed Sullivan Show was mother to Ben Stiller
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?