Agreement on Agriculture and Food Sovereignity

Global Issue Paper No. 3

25. Juni 2008

Perspectives from Mesoamerica and Asia

Edited by Arze Glipo
Published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, August 2003


Steeped in the rhetoric of free trade that promised expanded agricultural trade and growth for developing countries, the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) took effect in 1995 under the new World Trade Organization. As the AoA aims to liberalize trade in agriculture, it has tremendous impact on agriculture and the livelihoods of poor peasants in the South.

In many developing countries, agriculture is the major source of rural livelihoods and provides employment for over half of the labour force. Despite a declining share of GDP, agriculture remains a major pillar of these economies. In the past decades, many such countries have struggled to raise their agricultural production to meet the increasing food needs of their populations. But the neo-liberal economic reforms imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on developing countries, particularly since the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the 80s, have reoriented domestic agriculture away from food production and increasingly integrated it into the world market. The WTO-AoA locked-into these policies, reinforced the export-oriented model of third world agriculture, and forced open domestic markets to dumped imports. While developing country governments were increasingly forced to withdraw their remaining protective measures and support for agriculture under the AoA, the agricultural dumping practices and trade-distorting measures of developed countries were even legitimized.

The devastating impact of the AoA on small-scale farming, food security and rural employment calls for urgent and serious attention, particularly in the agriculture negotiations at the up-coming WTO Fifth Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico. This policy paper aims to bring forward the issues and demands of the popular majority in developing countries in Mesoamerica and Asia that arise out of the implementation of the AoA. It will also provide an overview of the political positions in both regions in order to identify common ground for alliance-building. Part I of the paper describes the rationale of the AoA and its impact on small-scale farming in the South. It provides data on the structural changes that took place in the two regions as well as describing the policy changes and reforms instituted by national governments in line with their commitments to the WTO-AoA. Part II focuses on the significance of the Ministerial Meeting in Cancun and presents the issues and demands forwarded by various organizations in the two regions. It also discusses possible common grounds that could be created between organizations advocating long-term structural changes and those working for a more reformed AoA. This part also analyzes possible changes to the AoA, taking into consideration the positions of major players as well as those of the developing countries. Finally, Part III tackles the alternative framework proposed by social movements in addressing their key issues and demands.

In addition to presenting the legitimate demands of small-scale farmers and civil society in developing countries relative to the WTO agenda, the paper also hopes to provide greater space for dialogue and interaction, between and among civil society groups engaged in campaigns and advocacy around WTO, trade and food sovereignty.