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Cancún: Blocking the Neoliberal Plan and a New Opportunity to Advance Alternatives

In the course of this past decade, the farmers in the countries of the South have been impoverished dramatically as a result of the liberalization of the world economy. The rich countries subsidize their agricultural products then market them broadly and cheaply in the countries of the South. The result of this agricultural dumping is that millions of small-scale farmers cannot sell what they produce, which condemns them to poverty and emigration.

The WTO set up a meeting in Cancún from September 10 to 14 aiming to take one more step in the direction of the consecration of the neoliberal plan. The freeze, or failure to reach an agreement at the outcome of the meeting, revealed that the countries of the South are increasingly making their presence felt as full-fledged actors on the international stage. A consensus on the alternatives is far from having been obtained, however, and getting all the concerned actors involved will be a long and difficult process.

As individuals and as peoples, we are still acting on the defensive while the rich countries are pushing to implement their plans with the support of the multinational corporations of each sector. We are on the defensive, for instance, with respect to the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services), which is a plan for a world-scale privatization of service sectors as important as health and education, which would thus be handed over to multinational corporations and private agents.

Some of the so-called Least Developed Countries proposed a total liberalization of the markets, i.e., with no subsidies for farm products of the North and their own products entering the countries of the North unfettered. This solution, however, is restricted to the logic of free-market competition and therefore takes no account of the socially responsible and democratic perspective of Human Rights, environmental protection, nor of the duties and responsibilities of investors with regard to these aspects.

Hundreds of thousands of Mexican and other Latin American farmers, along with activists from the world over also came to meet in Cancún and demand the suspension of the GATS agenda and a moratorium on the WTO. Other initiatives of the same kind have also been taken, such as that of the network of cities that have declared themselves to be “No GATS Zones.”

Alternatives therefore require development to be redesigned according to the logic of environmental balance and people’s rights, not to be built upon the accumulation of marketable production. Trade rules have to be redefined on a world scale to make sure that development takes place in the framework of a fair society and a fair economy. What needs to be guaranteed is the food sovereignty of peoples and the food and nutritional safety of persons, in other words, everyone’s right to be able to live from the fruit of their work. Finally, we need an international agenda in the framework of a representative and democratic body instead of the WTO.

States, with the support of civil society, must take the responsibility of implementing emergency programs for food security and policies for structural change and integral development in the areas of socially responsible education, awareness raising, and organization. The private sector and NGOs must apply codes of ethics to working conditions and labor laws. Last, what has to be developed is agriculture that is sustainable with respect to the environment, protects biological diversity, and both guarantees the community’s nutritional needs and helps to conserve the ecosystems.

To counter the neoliberal offensive aiming to turn services into marketable products, we need to open a worldwide debate on the definition and non-marketability of public-interest goods. Services cannot not be left blindly to the market; on the contrary, we need to establish systems that will guarantee that everyone, everywhere, will have access to the basic goods that are still lacking in far too many regions.

The world social movement must hold a continuous debate on alternatives to neoliberalism as citizens’ rights, seek consensuses on them and popularize them, while spreading knowledge of the alternative experiences that are progressively developed. While the governments of the North and the South carry on or halt their negotiations on the importance of their position in the market, thousands of people continue to die every day or remain condemned to poverty because their rights and needs are not respected, nor even taken into account. All of this can change progressively thanks to massive citizens’ participation in the North and in the South advocating respect of life and dignity and demanding a legal framework, local and international, that will protect those rights and needs.

Many of the Proposal Papers analyzed these questions and drew up, precisely, alternative proposals. You can consult the Proposal Papers on:

Global Governance
The World Trade Organization
The WTO and Agriculture
World Trade
Fair Trade


Germà Pelayo
Independent Consultant and Researcher in (...)
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