TIME OUT FOR FREE TRADE DEALS?
ARTICLE BY ROSALIENE BACCHUS
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Signs abound worldwide. Decades of global trade expansion is under erosion. The most recent sign occurred
on June 10, 2008, when about 100,000 protestors converged in the center of Seoul, South Korea. They
oppose the government’s decision to lift a five-year ban on U.S. beef imports. The ban had followed
confirmation of three cases of “mad cow” disease in the State of Washington, USA.

On the same day, thousands of landless peasants across 13 states in Brazil protested rising food prices and
the predominance of multinational companies in agriculture. In recent months, militant groups have also
interrupted the movement of iron ore exports to the ports.

Resistance to trade is also evident in the European Union where British and Irish farmers lobbied for
restrictions on Brazilian beef imports over food-safety concerns. The EU suspended Brazilian beef imports on
January 30, 2008 for failure to comply with European standards of health checks for foot-and-mouth disease
and animal tracking. EU officials later agreed to imports from 106 certified farms, a droplet of Brazil’s 10,000
cattle farms.

Over recent years, polls indicate that American workers oppose free trade deals that move jobs overseas and
affect the competitiveness of local production. In defense of America’s farmers, the U.S. Congress approved a
new $289 billion farm bill in May 2008. The global marketplace criticized the decision. The Cairns Group (
see
Footnote 1
) of 19 agricultural exporting countries released a statement on June 3 expressing “its strong
disappointment at the decision by the United States Congress to approve a farm bill that clearly contradicts the
objectives and mandate of the WTO Doha Round (
see Footnote 2) of trade negotiations.” WTO member nations
consider the farm bill a backward step that will impact agricultural production and food industries worldwide.

The U.S. Congress further undermined the global trading system when it did not renew the Trade Promotion
Authority that expired on June 30, 2007. Under the TPA, the President could negotiate international trade
agreements, subject without amendments to a yes-or-no vote in Congress. As a result, Free Trade
Agreements negotiated with Colombia, Panama and South Korea are still in limbo, awaiting approval from
Congress.

The wave of protectionism is now fuelled by the world food crisis. Grain exporters such as Argentina,
Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam have faced sharp price increases in food commodities. To
ensure sufficient food supplies for domestic use, these nations have restricted exports of rice, wheat and other
food products. Faced with the flaws of global food trade, leaders of developing nations now seek food security
with the strengthening and expansion of their agricultural industries. Some leaders have already established a
deadline for attaining food self-sufficiency. In Guyana and the Caribbean, CARICOM leaders have called for
prioritization of agricultural investments for increased food security in the Region.

The winners in the current global trade system press for more trade liberalization. Those who have lost
confidence in the global marketplace want a time out. In 2009, the newly-elected U.S. President will play an
important role in determining which side prevails.



Footnotes:
  1. The Cairns Group is comprised of Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala,
    Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay.
  2. The World Trade Organization Doha Round of trade talks was launched in 2001 in Doha, Qatar, by WTO members.


Article published in the Guyana Journal, Guyana Journal Publication, Inc., New York, USA, July 2008, p.10.
Reprinted with permission.
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