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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Examining the linkages between trade and food security: What is your experience?

Claudio Schuftan
Claudio SchuftanPHMViet Nam

1. In a free-market world economy, Third World countries are not being given the benefits they and their economies need, but rather what-ideologically-motivated-Northern-trade-partners believe they should give them. Conversely, in the local economy, only those who have something to sell --and are not hindered in selling it (!)-- can earn anything from trade.

2. So, when trade rules threaten the right to food of the poor, those trade rules should be challenged on the basis of existing Human Rights Covenants. Therefore, states, independent human rights commissions and/or NGOs should undertake ‘human rights (HR) impact assessments’ of the trade rules the respective country abides by, both during the process of trade negotiations and after negotiations; such an assessment must be public and participatory so as to safeguard people’s and communities’ rights from the avariciousness of commercial interests and patent rights. (AIFO)

3. For the developed countries of the North, free trade means shaping states’ policies worldwide so as to create the environments-most-favorable-to-the-opening-up-of-the-countries-of-the-South-to-globalized-free-markets! It means forcing the hand of these countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. The aim here is not really to foster greater democratic participation, but rather state-sponsored market deregulation. 

4. This being the case, one can justifiably ask: When creating such ‘favorable’ market environments, has neo-liberalism been able to manage the crisis of the world food system?  And the answer has to be a resounding NO. This latest stage of Capitalism has actually not yet shown it can curb the growth of impoverishment in large segments of both the Third and the First World. This fact leads committed HR workers to a very clear path of where the priorities lie. The crude reality of our times has simply led to levels of inequality beyond tolerance.

5. If the context and the framework of our development discourse are wrong, discussions and actions based on the wrong analyses will be like pouring water into a broken vessel; no amount of effort to fill it will be sufficient.



Oblivious to the teachings of history, international free trade is being promoted to the rank of ‘development motor’ as if development would be the same as preparing the population for the market economy. (CETIM)

1. The WTO is driven by a mercantilist philosophy; the focus of what it does is not on the welfare or growth prospects of members. Small, poor countries have little to offer and to gain in the mercantilist WTO exchange. The multilateral-trade-liberalization-drive championed by the WTO has been mainly driven by corporate interests seeking access to foreign markets; the WTO, therefore, is a good vehicle for advancing their interests.

2. It is not that industrial countries need the WTO; their firms can and do obtain access to new markets directly. In fact, the private sector has often concluded that the multilateral system may be good, but is ineffective, so, they use non-governmental routes.

3. On the other hand, it has been estimated that, if all (that is ALL) global trade barriers for the poor countries were eliminated, approximately 500 million people could be lifted out of hunger and poverty over 15 years. (Keep in mind that, if China is excluded, the number of hungry people has actually increased in the last decade. This, despite the right to food being enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and in the World Food Conference of 1974.

4. As a Human Rights challenge, it is, consequently, more important to advocate for raising income of poor persons than for food self-sufficiency, i.e., raising rural incomes is more important than increasing food production. So, the right to fair social and economic conditions is necessary to allow people to feed themselves (FAO).

6. In addition, and as related, keep in mind that if the debt burden of poor countries were significantly reduced or eliminated as their terms of trade were made fairer, the amount of aid required would also significantly diminish.

7. The worst enemy of developing counties is neoliberalism which means the complete elimination of protectionism. We cannot thus say that if ‘All global trade barriers to poor countries are eliminated, 500 million or more people could be lifted out of hunger’. It is an illusion to think that the problems of underdevelopment are due to trade barriers. Poor countries need protectionism as the air they breathe and, in the developed countries, the ones who suffer most from free trade are the unskilled working classes. The roots of poverty and exploitation are based on the power relations in that country, rather than on world trade.

8. Samir Amin (1985, Delinking: towards a polycentric world. London, Zed Books) has elaborated very clearly the importance of national protection and cultivating South South trading blocks protected from rich world competition. The logic of comparative advantage applies where two countries are at comparable levels of development. Free trade between rich and poor is much more likely to exacerbate the inequalities.



Who will live and who will die has already been decided by the economic structures brought about by globalization (P. John)

1. These days, bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) are totally bypassing the World Trade Organization (WTO). This is because rich countries think that multilateralism is for weak players and is based on long-winded processes with decisions that are typically based on the lowest common denominator arrived at with a one-country-one-vote system. So these rich countries (or the EU) seek their own way through these (often imposed) bilateral FTAs that bypass the WTO. Therefore, WTO critics are, in a way, partly misled when they demonstrate (only) against the WTO in the streets.

2. But, as experience has shown, in FTAs the cost:deception ratio has been high. FTAs pursued by hegemonic powers, despite being nefarious, find developing countries to be complacent, “behaving like animals being blissfully led to their slaughter”. (J. Bhagwati).

3. We cannot overlook the proven fact that trade (as much as foreign aid) is not even an opportunity and certainly not a guarantee. This is true, not only from an economic development perspective, but particularly from the perspective of human rights (HR). (G. Kent)  Unfortunately, in the case of aid, if one aid program misses its opportunity to deliver what it promised (whatever its expected impact was supposed to be), the next one is as sure to come along as day follows night; unhealthy donor competition ensures that. This is dramatically seen in current-day aid directed at ‘helping’ poor countries achieve the MDGs.

4. Few people know the MDGs actually comprise only two (of 30!) paragraphs of the full Millennium Declaration --which calls very strongly for democracy and human rights as the route to achieving the stated millennium goals! Actually, despite the fact that paragraphs 25 and 26 of the Millennium Declaration specifically call to apply a HR-based approach, the ongoing Millennium-Development-Goals-drive has become a global action program without such an orientation. 

5. Paradoxically, the negotiation of FTAs assumes capacity and political determination at the national level… when the problems we are trying to solve occur precisely because of shortfalls in technical and political capacity at the national level. [It is not, as so often touted, a lack of political will; most of the cases, it is a deliberate political laissez-faire decision of the national leadership in power].

9. As can be seen, much needs to change for trade, aid and the setting of development goals to work synergistically with HR goals. We all need to contribute our own share to progressively make this a reality.

Note: Not being facetious, if we provide sandwiches for all who are hungry in the world on the first day of 2015, will we have fulfilled the MDG of ending hunger by 2015? (G. Kent)

Claudio Schuftan, PHM, Ho Chi Minh City