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World Trade Organization ~ Killing Farmers

by Harvey TORDOFF

The media miss no opportunity to remind us of our political apathy.  General election turnouts are low; local council elections even lower; we don’t hold politicians in high regard.  So it is not surprising that politicians believe that the ordinary man doesn't care much for politics.  Strange, then, that so much interest is shown in the underlying issues, as though politics and social change were somehow not related.

When the World Trade Organization holds its annual conference the public protests en masse.  But the media has its own case of apathy, and what was news in Seattle in 1999 is no longer worthy of headlines. This year’s WTO ministerial conference in Cancun produced its share of protests: on the opening day some individuals taped their mouths, illustrating their voiceless state; and South Korean farmer Kun Hai Lee declared that WTO kills farmers, before committing ritual suicide.  The WTO Secretariat missed the point, merely expressing regret at Mr. Lee’s death from self-inflicted wounds.

The only news that filtered out of the conference itself was that no progress was made.  After several of these gatherings, rich nations are still unable or unwilling to reduce protectionism and ease trading restrictions that would enable poor nations become more self-reliant.  Much better to perpetuate the state of imbalance that leads to so much dissatisfaction and unrest; much better to continue to sell western products that poor nations cannot afford; much better to keep our heads in the sands of ignorance.

The basic issue is simple: is it morally right for the rich to over-produce, over-consume, and maintain trade barriers and subsidies that prevent poorer nations from competing?    Perhaps the WTO does not concern itself with morals; after all, trade is about profit.  But the secondary issue is more quantifiable: does it make economic sense to maintain this trading status quo and then, periodically, write off loans that cannot be repaid; provide humanitarian aid to nations facing famine; and give military assistance to help suppress internal violence.  Not easy to calculate, but our profit-minded world traders seem reluctant to even try.

Inter-woven with the issues of ethics and profit is that of international terrorism.  Bush and Blair seem obsessed with repelling the tide of terrorists with military might and rhetoric.  King Canute could have advised them on repelling a tide.  But to understand the law of cause and effect is to know that one cannot affect an outcome by treating the symptoms.  Terrorism is conducted and encouraged by fanatics and extremists but it stems from a sense of injustice felt by the masses.  As long as our politicians and traders regard third world countries as markets and cultures to be exploited this sense of injustice will intensify.

If trade barriers are dismantled some industries in rich countries will suffer.  This is part of any economic cycle.  But as poorer countries become more self-sufficient and less dependent on hand-outs the need for aid and loan write-offs will reduce.  As the imbalance between rich and poor nations lessens, so will the need for big military budgets.  Rich nations will still be able to balance the books.  We need to accept that current world trade kills farmers like Kun Hai Lee.  We need to recognize that we can do something about it.  And it helps to know that removing trade barriers is the right thing to do: economically, morally, and in the interests of world peace.

  _ . _

* 'Author of O Lanoo! ~ an introduction to Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, describing the evolution of the human body and the human soul.  Director of Energy, All Limited, an organization dedicated to bringing renewable energy to the people.'

Profile of Harvey Tordoff

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