Cultivate! endorses the following open letter to governments currently meeting in Buenos Aires
at the WTO ministerial conference:


Rewriting Current International Trade Rules on Agriculture
to Save Peasant Farming

As we face up to major challenges in terms of food security, climate change and ecological transition, our agricultural policies are still shaped by rules from last century. This is particularly the case for international trade rules on agriculture which were adopted in Marrakech in 1994 and which led to the creation of the WTO in 1995.

These rules have destructive effects on peasants both North and South, namely: industrialization of production methods, land grabbing, the financialization of agriculture, economic, social and environmental dumping. These rules reinforce the power of transnational companies; they impose other production techniques which damage agro-ecosystems and they negatively affect diets. They ruin peasant farms that feed the world’s people and protect the planet.

Common sense tells us that the priority of any good agriculture policy is to feed our people, yet it is the competition on international markets that drives our agriculture policies today. For example, the European Union has become both the world’s leading importer and leading exporter of food. Is that something to be proud of? Such a high dependence of agriculture and food from abroad leaves us at the mercy of geopolitical changes. It also, through its use of unnecessary transporting, contributes to global warming. It contributes too to keeping producers from the South from diversifying their production beyond cheap raw material.

When European container ships filled with apples destined for China cross the Indian Ocean and pass by Chinese container ships filled with apples destined for Europe, the planet heats up. All the while certain companies get richer to the detriment of producers.

Jean-Baptiste Malet’s recent book on the global course of concentrated tomatoes is a fitting example of the social and ecological absurdity of our current rules. Transnational companies produce where production costs are lowest to in turn sell where profit margins are highest. We have globalized agricultural markets in a way that sends farmers into a deadly cycle of reducing cuts/reducing prices.

Initiators of these rules of play (Uruguay Round negotiations 1986-1994), the two largest exporting powers of the time, the USA and the EU, managed to whitewash the dumping of their surpluses — that were set at low prices for third countries  — by replacing export subventions with subsidies to farms decoupled from production. These subsidies are reported in the famous green box to the WTO, which is not subject to restrictions and is not scheduled to be addressed during the discussions currently taking place at the WTO.

WTO rules allow the EU and the USA to supply raw farming materials to the agro- and food retail industry at prices often lower than the production cost. This is done by subsidizing farms so that they can continue to produce and to sell at a loss. These rules also allow for them to export to poor third countries that are themselves incapable of providing subsidies for their agriculture. This is a form of market grabbing that is institutionalized through WTO rules.

Take a Senegalese millet farmer as an example. European flour arriving at the port of Dakar is unfair competition for him/her. Such flour is sold at a cheaper price than what it costs to produce in Europe. This is possible due to EU subsidies. It is of little importance whether or not these subventions fall into the blue, yellow or green boxes of the WTO. Such flour, just as before the Uruguay Round, is sold on the African market at prices that unfairly undercut local cereal producers. The European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan will claim that green box subsidies do not have a distortionary effect on trading. This would be true if European farm produce was not exported. Without these subsidies a large number of farms in the EU or in “developed” countries using the green box would disappear. There is indeed a distortionary effect in terms of increasing production capacity and exports.

It is therefore urgent that we reconsider current international trading rules and that we establish fair rules of play that are adapted to this century’s challenges. For us, these rules must respond to the objective of food sovereignty. That is to say, to allow countries and regions to define their own agricultural policies which are in line with their own realities and their own needs without damaging third countries’ agriculture policies, and integrating other priorities such as feeding local populations and valuing food producers, working with nature, etc… (as highlighted in the 6 pillars of the Nyéléni Declaration 2007).

We need to put international agriculture trading in its rightful position, not anything more or anything less. Importing and exporting must no longer be the priority for agriculture policies, but rather be a complement to policies which are focused primarily on agricultural production designed to feed local, national and regional populations.

But the discussions taking place at the WTO and the agenda for the ministerial conference, for example  on the reduction of “internal support”, do not move forward in this direction. The EU and the USA refuse to question green box subventions. We call on governments meeting in Buenos Aires to take the true issues on board and to lay the ground work for new rules that will allow for more cooperative trade and for different national and regional agriculture policies.

We call on peasant organizations, lawyers, economists as well as NGOs to work together towards concrete proposals for new international trade rules for agriculture that allow for farmers both North and South to live with dignity from their work, to have access to local markets, to produce healthy and nutritious food, to reduce climate change, and to cease the decline in biodiversity through agroecological farming practices.

Signed by:

  • Michel Buisson, author of ‘Conquérir la souveraineté alimentaire’ Harmattan, 2013
  • Gérard Choplin, free-lance analyst on agriculture policies, author of ‘Paysans mutins, paysans demain-Pour une autre politique agricole et alimentaire’ Editions Yves Michel, 2017
  • Priscilla Claeys, Senior Research Fellow in Food Sovereignty, Human Rights and Resilience, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University (UK) and author of “Human Rights and the Food Sovereignty Movement: Reclaiming Control”, Routledge, 2015.
Co-signatories (alphabetical order):

Aide au Développement, ADG, Gembloux, Belgique

ASEED, The Netherlands

Tony Allan, Prof. King’s College London.  Stockholm Water Prize Laureate 2008

Jean-Jacques Andrien, cinéaste, Belgique

Eric Andrieu, député européen, groupe Socialistes & Démocrates, France

Asian Peasant Coalition, APC

Jacques Berthelot, agro-économiste, analyste bénévole des politiques agricoles pour les organisations paysannes et ONG du Nord et du Sud, France

Michel Besson, co-auteur de “La bio, entre business et projet de société”, Editions Agone, 2013, et membre du bureau des Amis de la Confédération paysanne, France

Patrice Burger, Centre d’Actions et de Réalisations InternationaIes, CARI, France

BEES coop – Coopérative Bruxelloise, Ecologique, Economique et Sociale, Belgique

José Bové, député européen, groupe Verts-Alliance libre européenne, France

Lijbert Brussaard, Professor emeritus, Soil Biology and Biological Soil Quality, Wageningen University & Research

Guillaume Chomé, ing. agronome, Belgique

Corporate Europe Observatory, CEO

Ibrahima Coulibaly, président de la Coordination nationale des organisations paysannes du Mali, CNOP

Guillaume Cros, vice-président Eelv du conseil Régional d’Occitanie, membre du Comité européen des régions

Cultivate!, the Netherlands

Olivier de Schutter, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014)

Benoît De Waegeneer, Thematic Officer Sustainable Food System, Oxfam-Solidarité

Stéphane Desgain, chargé souveraineté alimentaire, CNCD-11.11.11, Belgique

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, emeritus professor Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Marc Dufumier, Auteur de Famine au Sud, Malbouffe au Nord, Edition NiL, 2012.

Patrick Dupriez, co-président Ecolo, Belgique

Farmers For Action, UK

FIAN Belgium

Simon Fairlie, The Land magazine, UK.

Pierre Galand, président du Forum pour un Contrat de Génération Nord Sud asbl, Belgique

Fuensanta García Orenes, Responsible of environmental area of Miguel Hernandez University (Elche-Spain) and researcher of ISQAPER project

Susan George, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, FRSA, Ph.D.  Ecrivain

Michèle Gilkinet, MPOC, mouvement politique des objecteurs de croissance, Belgique

Bruno Goffart, administrateur Wwoof Belgium

Christophe Golay, auteur de “Droit à l’alimentation et accès à la justice”, Bruylant, 2011

Jean-Claude Grégoire, ing. agronome, professeur honoraire à l’Université libre de Bruxelles

Elizabeth Henderson, organic farmer, Newark, New York, US

Danielle Hirsch, Director, Both ends, The Netherlands

Anita Idel, Dr. med. vet., Mediation and Project Management Agrobiodiversity, Feldatal (Germany)

Michel Installé, professeur émérite, Université catholique de Louvain

Intal Globalize Solidarity, Belgique

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, KMP

Nicolas Jaquet, Président de l’Organisation des Producteurs de Grains, France

Michel-Jean Jacquot, ex-directeur du Fonds européen d’orientation et de garantie agricole, FEOGA,UE

Thierry Kesteloot, chargé de plaidoyer sur les politiques agricoles et alimentaires à Oxfam-Solidarité, Belgique

Marie-Paule Kestemont, professeur, Université catholique de Louvain

Tom Kucharz, Ecologistas en Acción (Spain)

Landworkers’ Alliance, UK

Bernard Lannes, Président de la Coordination Rurale Union nationale, France

Paul Lannoye, Député européen honoraire, Président du Grappe asbl

Henri Lecloux, agriculteur retraité, Belgique

Patrick Le Hyaric, député européen, Vice-président, groupe Gauche unitaire européenne/Gauche verte Nordique, France

René Louail, ancien membre du Comité de coordination de la Coordination européenne Via campesina, France

Gustave Massiah, économiste, France

Alicia Morugan Coronado, environmental researcher of ISQAPER Project, Spain

Mouvement d’Action Paysanne, MAP, Belgique

Mouvement Rural de Jeunesse Chrétienne, MRJC, France

National Family Farm Coalition, NFFC, USA

Maria Noichl, Mitglied des Europäischen Parlaments, S&D, Österreich

Kaul Nurm, Former secretary general of the Estonian Farmers Federation

Maurice Oudet, président du Service d’Editions en Langues Nationales, SEDAN, de Koudougou au Burkina Faso

Österreichische Bergbauern Vereinigung, ÖBV-Via Campesina Austria

Raj Patel, Research Professor, L.B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, USA

Laurent Pinatel, porte-parole de la Confédération Paysanne, France

Platform Aarde Boer Consument, the Netherlands

RIPESS intercontinental, Réseau Intercontinental pour la Promotion de l’Economie Sociale et Solidaire

Catherine Ronse, artisane en boulangerie, Belgique

Sir Julian Rose, Jadwiga Lopata, President/Vice President, International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside

Laurence Roudart, professeur, Université libre de Bruxelles

Seattle to Brussels network, S2b

Michel Sorin, ingénieur agronome, membre du Mouvement Républicain et Citoyen,MRC 53, et à Réseau CiViQ

SOS Faim, Belgique

Marc Tarabella , député européen, groupe S&D , Belgique

Mark Tilzey, Senior Research Fellow, Governance of Food Systems for Resilience Centre for Agroecology, Water and  Resilience Coventry University, UK

Toekomstboeren, The Netherlands

Aurélie Trouvé, porte-parole d’ATTAC France

URGENCI, International network of Community Supported Agriculture

Arnaud Zacharie, secrétaire général du Centre national de coopération au développement, CNCD-11.11.11, Belgique

Védegylet Egyesület, Hungary

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Dutch section, WILPF-NL






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