Press Release : Developing Countries Should Walk out of WTO Ministerial


14 June 2022
Media Release: Focus on the Global South (
On the penultimate day of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) currently taking place in Geneva, leaders from trade unions, farmers organisations and civil society called upon developing country negotiators to reject compromise outcomes at the WTO MC 12 and instead reclaim policy space lost during the Uruguay Round by taking strategic steps to dismantle the WTO. 

They were speaking at an online press conference titled “WTO@27: End of the Road” convened by Focus on the Global South to take stock of the current negotiations and look at the way ahead for global trade policy. Speakers from the Philippines, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Australia shared their insights on the negotiating texts currently being tabled at the MC12, assessed the WTOs records especially its role during the pandemic, and articulated the way forward for a genuine democratic multilateralism that puts economic, social and environmental justice at the forefront.

Panelists included Professor Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South, Kate Lappin from Public Services International, Farooq Tariq from Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee and La Via Campesina, Sagari Ramdas from Kudali Learning Centre and Food Sovereignty Alliance, Pablo Rosales from PANGISDA-Pilipinas, and Dr. Lauren Paremoer from the People’s Health Movement (PHM). Shalmali Guttal, Executive Director of Focus on the Global South, moderated the press conference.

In her opening remarks, Shalmali Guttal pointed to the crisis of legitimacy that the WTO is facing: “The WTO has failed to facilitate timely, appropriate responses to food and health crises—which are most stark during the COVID pandemic on the issue of IPRs on testing, treatment and vaccines. There has not been a single positive outcome for developing countries from the WTO. The last MC held in Buenos Aires had no outcome because of this. Now in Geneva, they want to avoid a repeat of that fiasco and so there is a strong push for compromises at the MC12.” 

‘WTO declarations with some nice language does not mean there is actual consensus on contentious issues. Using the current crisis of the WTO, developing countries must move from defensive to offensive positions and reclaim the policy space lost in the Uruguay Round,’ said Walden Bello

Kate Lappin argued that as the world continues to face vaccine apartheid, we need to ensure that the WTO has no role whatsoever in global health policy including on access to vaccines and treatment. Lappin also noted that at the MC12, developed countries are pushing through very anti-democratic rules around domestic regulations in the services sector that will constrain legitimate sovereign policy making spaces of governments. 

Farooq Tariq spoke on the impact of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) on rural farming communities in the global south. He said that AoAs free trade, pro corporate farming model has brought food riots, poverty, hunger and misery to millions of farmers in the global south. “They are trying to control everything,” said Tariq. “WTO agreements limit peasants’ ability to grow seeds. Industrial agriculture exploits cheap migrant labor, particularly of women & girls”. Tariq asserted that the way forward for agriculture was the La Via Campesina proposal for a new international framework based on food sovereignty. 

Sagari Ramdas spoke about how three decades of neoliberal pro corporate WTO policies in agriculture have enabled the reproduction of old patterns of colonial exploitation. She also highlighted the Indian Government’s duplicitous position on the WTO. “On the one hand at Geneva, they are defending farmers and the right to public stockholding. But back home in Delhi they are embracing neoliberal policies that cut subsidies and impoverish small farmers. India’s embrace of a pro corporate model of farming has decimated cooperatives and led to dispossession and displacement of millions of small-scale food producers – especially women from indigenous and marginalised backgrounds that represent a vast majority of India’s agricultural workforce,” said Ramdas.

Pablo Rosales pointed out how the Philippine government failed to improve the conditions of small-scale fisherfolk even as it promised to do so by joining the WTO in 1995. The fisherfolk remain as one of the poorest sections of society due to greater liberalisation and deregulation of fisheries. ‘Our experience over the past two decades has led us to demand that fisheries should be out of the WTO’, asserted Rosales.

 Lauren Paremour from PHM said that the current TRIPS text being negotiated in Geneva is not the waiver proposal submitted by South Africa and India, but a far more limited text drafted by the WTO Secretariat that makes it more cumbersome to apply flexibilities during COVID19 than otherwise. “The best option for developing countries on the current TRIPS text at the MC12 is to reject it and walk away. No outcome is better than a bad one.”Panelists at the press conference were of the opinion that there should be no compromise by developing countries at the MC 12. While the short term goal would be to block any bad outcomes at MC 12 and resist any further encroachment by the WTO in new arenas such as the digital economy and e-commerce, the long term strategic goal for social movements across the world should be for dismantling the WTO. 

Walden Bello concluded that, instead of the WTO, developing countries should be looking at various UN fora and mechanisms, and multilateral agreements built on as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to promote economic development, cooperation, sustainable development and well-being.The press conference can be watched in its entirety at Focus on the Global South Facebook page on the link here.

Denouncing The UN Food Systems Summit 2021!

No sooner had countries of the global south liberated from the clutches of colonialism, than they were trapped once again by global capitalism; this time as ‘free member-nations’ of the new international monetary  system and trade regimes established at Bretton Woods in 1944, and operationalised through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, institutions formed at the conference. India was still a colony, when it participated at Bretton Woods, and  became a member of the World Bank Group in 1945.    

Controlling the food systems of the global south, has always been an integral component of capitalist expansion, and has taken various forms since we gained independence:   forced grain imports from the global north (such as the infamous PL- 480 wheat imports into India from the USA in the 1950s and 60s) which destroyed local food production, and set the stage for the onset of the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1960s, with its package of HYV seeds, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, high energy and water intensive crops. Pro-actively financed and piloted by the capitalists of that time, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, States of the global south including India, already trapped in Bretton woods debt-based development, were arm-twisted into Green Revolution becoming the mainstay of agriculture policy, via State support. Parallel macro-economic food-grain public procurement policies that focused exclusively on procuring rice and wheat (the 2 primary green revolution crops), forced farmers to switch from cultivating ecologically resilient millets and pulses, to wheat and rice. In India, from a high of 55.6 million hectares in 1968, millets and pulse production plummeted to 28 million hectares by 2006. 

The 1980s Washington consensus imperialist policy prescriptions of the US, its allies, along with the IMF and World Bank,  upon debt-strapped countries of the global south anxious to access fresh loans from these institutions, similarly forced India in the 1990s, into accepting the conditionalities of the IMF and the World Bank  to push through macroeconomic stabilization reforms and structural adjustment programs. This paved the way for further destruction of our food and agriculture system. Food and agriculture were identified as key growth sectors requiring economic reforms, and resulted in shrinking state agriculture subsidies, diminished agriculture budgets, liberalised trade regimes after India joined the World Trade Organisation in 1995,  facilitating imports of highly subsidised food and agriculture commodities from the global north, to compete with non-subsidised food produced by India’s farmers, and a shift from a universal to a targeted public food distribution system. Subsequent multilateral free trade agreements, 100% foreign direct investment in key agriculture and food sectors, agribusiness financed expansion of green revolution and genetic engineering technology into rainfed and eastern India, has culminated today in the complete deregulation of food and agriculture markets manifested in the 3 Farm Laws, new land lease laws, labour laws and digital technologies in agriculture, which completes the story of structural adjustments, and sets the stage for the total control of India’s food systems by agribusiness and related corporations, from farm to plate . This also includes the capitalisation and agri-business capture  of agro-ecology, considered by social movements to be a counter to industrial agriculture. The new-age philanthro-capitalists such as the Gates Foundation, are pro-actively pushing the agenda of corporate capture of food and agriculture systems be they  chemical or agro-ecological. 

The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit 2021, scheduled to be held as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, has been shaped, is governed and controlled by Corporates represented by the World Economic Forum (WEF), along with the identical set of players that created this highly unjust , exploitative and iniquitous global food regime, in the first place. The Summit is blatantly more of the same. Reprehensibly, these institutions whose actions have resulted in starvations, chronic malnutrition, deaths, livelihood loss, inequality and poverty,  dispossession, poisoned air, waters, soils, ecological and climatic chaos, far from being  held accountable and penalised for their unjust actions over all these decades,  now present themselves as the leaders to solve the problem that is of their own making, via ‘multi-stakeholder dialogues’ at the UN Food Systems Summit.  In the words of the WEF, the summit will initiate ‘ Joint reflection’  among leading  development institutions, member- states , donors and other stakeholders on changes required in the Food System and create a shared vision for more sustainable food systems! The World Bank’s Dialogue, in partnership with UNEP, and IFPRI, dispels any illusions anyone may have about the true intentions of this summit when they specifically state “ The UN Food Systems Summit Global Finance Dialogue brings together public and private stakeholders to tackle barriers to investment and to build an ambitious shared vision of a Food Finance Architecture that mobilises large scale capital for more sustainable food systems”-an oxymoron if ever there was one.   

The World Economic Forum, building on its experiences of implementing its New Vision for Agriculture (NVA) initiatives in 3 Indian States (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra which includes the much touted Zero Budget Natural Farming of AP) , is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare in the development of a multistakeholder Agricultural Value System Platform to cover all primary agricultural sectors and activities and promote public-private partnerships and enable scaling of the partnership approach to all interested states. The proposed platform, which will operate at national, state and district levels, is envisaged to transform food value chain systems in India through multi-stakeholder participation from private sector, government, international bodies, and farmers groups, and is part of the strategy to double farmers incomes by 2022. Select corporate members of the WEF’s NVA India Business Council scripted the mechanics of how Agriculture Exports should drive India’s agriculture policy, an integral component of India’s XVth Finance Commissions Report.    It thus comes as no surprise that India  wholeheartedly supports the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, which is in line with the countries  objectives of handing over India’s food system from farm to plate, to Corporates . 

Regardless of which political party has been in power at the centre, governments have submissively and unquestioningly followed this diktat, which today  serves the interest of both domestic and international capital and agribusiness/ corporates whose profits stand to rise, with their capture of the global food supply chains. The pandemic only contributed to magnifying this enslavement, and the entrenched utter exploitations of the system . 

This system has to be dismantled; not ‘transformed’  as is the slogan of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021. And towards this end, we The Food Sovereignty Alliance, India denounce this Summit as another farce, and a strategy to mobilise the global UN system with all its member countries to officially endorse Corporate Controlled Global Food Futures. An immediate step in our struggle to dismantle the regime,  is to force our government to repeal the 3 Farm Laws and associated laws. Our long term struggle lies in reconstructing a democratic non-brahminical, non-patriarchal and non-capitalist just food farming system, founded on the tenets of Food Sovereignty which begins with executing the unfinished agenda of genuine land reforms , where the State is accountable to the people, and not to Capital.