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- Speaks with two tongues

Organizations that often stand together now fight so that the rags feed on agricultural commodities.


[new dividers] The temperature is high, and the dividing lines are new and surprising in the debate on international trade and agriculture before the signing of a new agreement in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which could change the rules of the game for global food production.

16 solidarity organizations, trade unions and agricultural organizations, including Attac, the Development Fund and the Norwegian Bond Association, have joined forces on a trade policy platform under the name Trade Campaign.

- The agricultural part of the Trade Campaign is characterized by close contact with Norwegian business interests, says Mekonnen Germiso, research leader in The Future in Our Hands.

- The trade campaign demonstrates ideological skepticism about cross-border trade per se, regardless of research results on what this has to say for the environment and development, he says.

- We are far from opposed to trade, but we are concerned that regulations are needed to support the poorest, towards a neoliberal policy. Trade cannot be seen in isolation from the environment and living conditions. Transporting food across national borders is also an environmental issue, says Aksel Nærstad, spokesperson for the Trade Campaign.

Mekonnen Germiso responds that emissions during the production process are far more important than transport.

- Tomatoes that are grown outdoors in Morocco and then transported to Norway, emit one-eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions generated from the corresponding amount of tomatoes from Norwegian greenhouses, he says.

The Joint Council for Africa and Church Aid are also critical of the Trade Campaign. Magnus Bjørnsen of the Common Council for Africa believes that the trade campaign continues a pattern from the colonial era.

- I am amazed that so many solidarity organizations believe that food sovereignty in the West is important. The trade campaign speaks with two tongues when they say that they want to import more from developing countries, but will decide for themselves what developing countries should export. The trade campaign agrees that food exports can lead to development – they would rather have sugar from Mozambique than from Denmark. But when it comes to food we produce ourselves, they clearly do not want to import in a volume that really matters. So Mozambique will be allowed to export sugar, but not meat or dairy products, says Bjørnsen.

- The trade campaign is concerned with increasing imports of products from the least developed countries and poor small producers in other developing countries, while we want to ensure the right for all countries to own food production, answers Nærstad, who believes the trade campaign has not said anything about what developing countries should and should not export.

Gunstein Instefjord in Norwegian Church Aid believes the Trade Campaign has often been nuanced in its criticism of the WTO.

- The WTO is the arena where developing countries can collectively try to correct the EU and the USA. This does not mean that every agreement must be accepted. But a light-hearted criticism that does not take into account that the alternative to a new WTO agreement is several bilateral agreements where developing countries must meet rich countries alone, and thus are much weaker, is not very constructive, says Instefjord.

Aksel Nærstad does not recognize the criticism from Instefjord and points out that the Trade Campaign is very careful with what it says on behalf of the campaign, because the members may have different opinions.

- Bilateral agreements are negotiated in parallel with the WTO agreement, and an agreement in the WTO will not prevent pressure on developing countries in bilateral negotiations, says Nærstad. He explains that the Trade Campaign will therefore look at the specific content of various contract sales, to assess what is good and what is bad.

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