Aftab Alam Khan: 'The major injustices, including US and EU farm subsidies, remain'

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The Independent Online

The past week's talks in Geneva could have done much to end injustice in world trade. But all they have achieved is to narrowly avoid the kind of deadlock which ended last year's meeting of trade ministers in Cancun, Mexico. The injustices, including the notorious US and European Union farm subsidies, remain.

African farmers grow some of the world's best cotton. They can produce three kilos of cotton for the cost of one kilo grown in the US. By subsidising its 30,000 cotton farmers, the US is depressing world prices and undermining the economies of four West African countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo - whose 10 million people depend on cotton for 30 to 50 per cent of their national income. This agreement does not address the real issue, the need for elimination of all cotton subsidies.

Again the US has been let off the hook at the expense of some of the world's poorest people. The EU has also wriggled out of firm commitments in reform of its common agricultural policy. The €1.4bn the EU spends on subsidising dairy products and the €1.2bn spent on sugar will continue. How can poor farmers compete, when farmers in rich countries can sell their goods at below the cost of production?

So why did developing countries agree to this bad deal? The answer is simple: the trade talks are heavily weighted in rich countries' favour. Elite groups meet in secret to make proposals poor countries are pressured to accept.

Poor countries are not asking for charity; they are after justice. What they want are fair-trade rules, in which everyone shares the benefits of world trade.


Aftab Alam Khan is head of the food-rights campaign at ActionAid