World Criticizes U.S. Protectionism
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Special Privileges Are Economically Unsound
The World Criticizes U.S. Protectionism, Corporate Welfare
Here are portions of a report by the Reuters news service, circulated by the Grassroots International News Association.
by Darren Schuettler
Speaking near the grand and heavily guarded Johannesburg convention centre that is hosting the mammoth, 10-day Earth Summit, Nelson Mandela painted a bleak picture of privation and thirst in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. “It is the absence of clean water that strikes (me) most starkly,” said Mandela, whose selfless struggle against apartheid made him a moral authority for Africa and the world.
He was launching an exhibition on ways to provide clean water to poor communities, a key goal of the United Nations and a major topic at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Since Monday delegates from nearly 200 countries have debated a U.N. action plan to ease poverty while preserving the planet.
Delegates made some headway in overcoming differences this week but were deadlocked on the issue of artificial subsidies paid to Western agribusiness corporations that hold back imports from Africa and Asia.
The trade debate spilled onto the streets outside the centre in the wealthy suburb of Sandton, where 200 poor farmers and local street traders from nearby shanty townships shouted slogans demanding freer trade and more access to markets.
Criticizing the Bush policy of protectionism
“We want the freedom to grow what we want, when we want, with what technology we want, and without trade-distorting subsidies or tariffs,” said Barun Mitra, an Indian farm activist leading about 30 farmers from his country.
John Ashe, a Caribbean delegate, said ministers or even heads of government may have to get involved next week if the deadlock over subsidies and how to characterise globalisation continues.
The United States has drawn fire for its new Farm Bill set to boost corporate welfare subsidies to domestic agribusiness interests, while plans to reform Europe’s farm support policy have left that continent bitterly divided over French-led opposition to the plan.
U.S. President George W. Bush will fail to attend the summit, although about 100 other world leaders will come next week.
Many delegates said the protectionist United States was leading resistance to phase out export subsidies and to make “substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support”.
Environmentalists complained too: “We see the U.S. inserting words and watering down the text and taking it backwards,” said Bjarne Pedersen of Consumers International.
Rich countries gave about $54 billion in development aid in 2001 but paid more than $350 billion in corporate welfare handouts to their own agribusiness interests — or as one World Bank official noted: “The average cow is supported by three times the level of income of a poor person in Africa”.
Environmental group Friends of Earth called the United States the “single biggest block against progress at the Earth Summit.”
But it also took aim at the European Union for a lack of leadership. “On many key issues, the EU is part of the problem rather than the solution,” the group said.
TURN WORDS INTO ACTION
Delegates this week tackled ways to quench the growing thirst of a growing world population and provide sanitation to billions of the world’s poor who do without either every day.
Nearly one in five people or 1.1 billion men, women and children have no access to fresh water, according to the U.N., while a staggering 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation.
South Africa is leading a drive to adopt a target for reducing those numbers by half — an initiative resisted by the United States and some other nations.
The leaders of South Africa, Brazil and Sweden said words must become action. Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Thabo Mbeki, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Goran Persson said: “A quantum leap in the struggle to eliminate poverty and move toward a sustainable future is within reach.”
Visit the Corporate Welfare Shame Site for a full range of reports of artificial, anti-market subsidies that taxpayers are forced to finance.
Before Bush, the United States claimed to be in favor of free trade and against corporate welfare. Now the nation has abandoned free market reforms and is simply handing out special privileges to wealthy corporate interests. An international meeting such as the one in Johannesburg can point this out, but can it cause something to change? What would be a good outcome for this world summit meeting? Tell your views to The Progress Report!