Theater of Cruelty

Gartner Anxiety

Our politicians 'fear of reducing farmers' farmers is more important than development considerations.


[essay] Negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) were recently resumed in India. At the center is the agricultural negotiations, which affect everyday life to 70 percent of the world's poor. In this light, the Norwegian shooting trench war on agriculture and the WTO as it appears in Norwegian media is a sad sight. So far, the only angle the large Norwegian media find worthwhile is to cover the one that represents Norwegian farmers as the main obstacle to development in the south.

In this case, however, old dichotomies must be thrown on the scrap heap of history. We need to master a balance art that creates holes in our customs walls tailored to the poorest countries, a political playing field that accepts solid customs walls on the poorest side, and subsidies on our side that support the right type of operation. All of this must be tied together by a powerful multilateral regime with feared sanctions mechanisms under the WTO.

Subsidies brake. A significant brake in the negotiations is subsidies to agriculture. When the French company Beghin Say receives subsidies of 236 million euros per year and dumps 450.000 tons of sugar into the world, which is devastating for sugar producers, in the south something is seriously wrong. It is in stark contrast to all the postulates of a fair – if not a free – trade.

Now there is nothing wrong in subsidizing your own farmers. However, it must be justified on the basis of considerations such as maintaining jobs in the district, safeguarding biological diversity and the cultural landscape – and not contributing to the legitimation of a global dumping agriculture. It is the production-premiuming subsidies that contribute most to the dumping, they are the ones that have to go away, even though some Norwegian farmers are worried that they will then be reduced to gardeners.

The problem with Norwegian policy is not that we dump agricultural products in Africa, but that we negotiate on EU and US export-oriented premises within the WTO. When Norway and the G10 negotiate to keep as much of the production-rewarding internal support as possible, ultra-efficient agriculture in the US and the EU can keep the same subsidies – with the effect that they produce large surplus stocks that are later dumped in poor countries. In this way, our fear of turning farmers into gardeners becomes a mental barrier to developing new subsidy regimes.

Cherries with the big ones. Rhetorically, the farmers' organizations in Norway are right – the main line of conflict does not run between poor farmers in the south and small farmers in Norway. The farmers' association gives the impression that they have the same interests as small farmers in the south. However, the political demands are on a par with the large farmers in France – continued and preferably increased production-premium subsidies to maintain an industrial agriculture.

Strangely enough, the little brothers Bonde- og Småbrukarlaget have not seen their strategic opportunity. When the premise is that the poor countries are now forming a common front to break the production-awarding subsidies – and we see progression at this point in the negotiations – it is a lazy fit for more subsidies in their spirit. Support for district settlement, cultural landscapes and biological diversity is not the same as production support.

Now, the Bondelaget's strategists have undoubtedly done a good job of recruiting fellow players among them with moral force. However, they should be careful to present themselves as the voice of poor peasants in Norway. At their worst, they drive the development policy of the Norwegian public.

Among the clearest are the following: "Since the poorest countries have zero duty on imports to Norway, they today have a competitive advantage compared to other countries" (Leader of the Norwegian Bond Association, Bjarne Undheim, Aftenposten 28 November 2005).

How is it possible for Undheim to come up with such dishonesty? Undheim knows very well that when Mozambican farmers try to enter the Norwegian market with their sugar, they compete with Danish counterparts who are so heavily subsidized that it can sell their goods for a quarter of the production price.

"Best in Norwegian". The misleading is accompanied by the tagging campaign Good Norwegian, where Norwegian consumers are clearly instructed in what they should choose. In this way, foreign foods are indirectly placed in a dubious light. On the branding's own pages it can be read that "Good Norwegian brand will help you as a consumer to find the good about the Norwegian." The Common Council for Africa asked the timely question: When does the branding scheme "Good African" be seen in Norwegian store shelves ?

Unfortunately, the labeling is reinforced by the Norwegian authorities. From the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, measures are aimed at school students. In 2005, the competition "Best short-traveled food class" was launched. The goal was "to raise students' awareness of the value of local food production".

Few African peasants have a spacious treasury in the back, but the changes in customs and subsidy regimes are being pushed because poor countries have formed a common front in the WTO, but they need lawyers in the north.

Reporting is a contribution. So what steps can we take immediately? A start is to fight for increased transparency. Under the WTO, member states are already asked to report the subsidy component per product. According to Article 18 of the WTO Agreement, all countries must provide accurate descriptions of their aid schemes within 120 days of their introduction.

Unfortunately, rich countries fail to follow this practice, and Norway is no exception. Media statements clearly illustrate the Norwegian sin of failure when Norwegian authorities at the Department of Agriculture's Sverre Kvakkestad say: "There are almost no countries that have done so in the WTO" (The Nation, November 3, 2006).

When this comes in addition to State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sps Monica Stubholt, and her repeated rejections of a strengthened notification regime here in Ny Tid, it says a lot about the Norwegian government's unwillingness to address key development policy challenges.

Here in the yard, a change in the subsidy regime will obviously have consequences for agriculture. Today, the agricultural sector is by far the strongest subsidized in international trade.

The support schemes in Western countries have also increased substantially in recent years, and in total it currently amounts to five times as much as aid to poor countries.

Today, the subsidization of agriculture is maintained through a high tariff protection, which allows for higher prices in the store. This is how farmers are supported through a price support from consumers. These transfers amount to about NOK 11 billion. So far, the strategy of the Bondelaget has been to demand compensation for possible cuts in customs walls through direct support from the state in the form of production-promoting subsidies.

Dumping has consequences. Christian Anton Smedshaug of the Norwegian Farmers' Association gives a thorough answer to the undersigned in Ny Tid (13 October 2006) as to why he believes the subsidy debate is not the most relevant. The post is based on figures that show that cuts in subsidies will not have the desired development effect.

However, Smedshaug does not mention, first, the consequences of dumping subsidized goods when they destroy vulnerable markets in the south. Secondly, he does not mention that even small upgrades in exports as a result of changes in subsidies could have several positive effects.

Experience from Asia shows that increased demand due to subsidy cuts created increased incentives for investments, generated jobs, stimulated overall economic growth and contributed to capital for future investments. However, this happened within a clear political space of action, something that Western countries through the global financial institutions have not assigned to a lot of poor countries.

At the same time, we must end the debate where we see different measures under the WTO system in isolation. There is a tendency to argue against good solutions because it may look like they will not immediately have the desired effect. Very often, the cause is surrounding circumstances such as lack of redistribution of income and poor governance. However, these cannot be used for arguments against increased trade; it is rather an argument for increased Norwegian support for organizing interest groups, civil society players in each country and targeted assistance to exploit increased political leeway.

This must again be done together with a number of other measures, for example in the aid sector, in areas such as infrastructure development, product quality assurance and good governance projects.

Media part of the problem. However, it is far from the Bondelag's fault alone that the debate is on the increase. One of the most important contributors to the Norwegian debate is stomping is the Norwegian media, which only powers one single angle when covering the WTO and agriculture. It is the one about how nasty Norwegian farmers are that keep poor farmers in the south out of Norwegian markets.

Last out was Oddvar Stenstrøm who raised his populist index finger to the farmers in TV 2's Holmgang in January. Looking back at TV 2's archives for October 2005, you'll find the exact same debate. The problem was identical and the actors were the same. The positions are not moved one millimeter.

Those who had hoped for a more nuanced production of the big sisters in NRK will probably be disappointed when their journalist Tone Bergmoen asks: “Who should we be in solidarity with, Norwegian farmers or farmers in poor countries, who would benefit greatly from lower import duties on the goods? are they selling? ”(NRK October 11, 2005).

The Norwegian trade debate suffers from the classic opposition between protectionists and liberalists, which destroys the room for political thinking.

The framework for the debate is maintained by an unholy alliance of media, peasants and politicians with equally simple solutions.

The leading media does not question whether flat liberalization will automatically generate wealth. A report from the British aid organization Christian Aid shows that sub-Saharan Africa has lost $ 272 billion over the past 20 years after being forced to liberalize its markets. This corresponds to the amount this region has received in aid during the same period.

More neoliberal than Europe. Figures from the British organization Oxfam indicate to all intents and purposes that more poor countries today are far closer to the most far-reaching liberalization goals than the EU and the US. In sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 16 countries have used the neoliberal prescription and are today far more open than the EU, without the patient appearing to be any healthier for that reason.

The fact that poor farmers will not immediately benefit from a flat liberalization was also pointed out by the Farmer's report "The farmers, billionaires and world trade". The report came in the fall of 2005 and went into the throat of Norwegian media's WTO coverage. The bottom line was that global agrobuisness, not poor farmers in poor countries, would take over Norwegian farmers' market shares through liberalized world trade.

What documentation he uses is unclear, but perhaps the class struggle's Alf Skjeseth is right in his article "The Good Enemy" (January 16 this year) when he says that "journalists who have not turned to the ideological war against agriculture found useful corrective and important information in the report ».

Skjeseth in the same article mentions Norwegian agricultural cooperation as follows: "Cooperation is to work together, to combine the forces for the common good". Criticism of the Collaboration, he writes with the following passage: "It is part of the pure peasant hatred that previously stood strong in the workers' column, but which is now much more clearly articulated from the political right wing and the ideologues of neoliberalism."

Skjeseth is one of the class struggle editor Bjørgulv Braanen's weaponists and contributes strongly to maintaining the right-left reaction which in this case is not very constructive, and which to all excess is merged with the urban land axis.

No room for intermediate position. It turns out that the Norwegian debate leaves little room for support for a strong, rule-based multilateral trade regime, which protects against the strongest right, a spacious political room for poor countries, combined with the recognition that trade is the most effective way to transfer wealth from rich to poor people. But this middle position is necessary, and the most realistic agents for this change are found in the environments of the incumbent government, as well as the solidarity organizations, academia and some niche media.

Today, agricultural actors as well as the media and politicians make a strong contribution to maintaining the traditional right-left and city-country dichotomies. This shakes all doors and windows and lets in little fresh air for innovation. Our national debate must take into account that it needs a new and wider space – and have in mind the overall: that this is a round of development. ■

Sindre Stranden Tollefsen, SV member

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