May 18, 2010

Bill Clinton apologises for flooding Haiti with cheaper rice; Need to immediately stop WTO and FTAs from inflicting more damage.

This is surely something from the blue. Former US President Bill Clinton apologising for flooding Haiti since early 1990s with cheaper American rice, which had destroyed Haiti's ability to feed itself, lends support to the global opposition to the free trade regime.

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton—now a UN special envoy to Haiti—told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee March 10. “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else” [Red the complete report below]

Frank acceptance of his own faulty policies is a refreshing change in a world where political leaders remain committed to promote the commercial interests of the MNCs and Big Business. They do it with impunity, and with the global media backing them who is there to question.

Bill Clinton's acceptance should put to shame mainline economists and trade negotiators all over the world who have relentlessly been pushing for more aggressive opening of the developing country markets. They are the real culprits, and need public bashing. In fact, I invite Pascal Lamy, the man who has single-handedly been responsible for destroying millions of farm livelihoods across the globe, to publicly seek repentance, and therefore take a dip in the holy Ganges.

Some years back, just before the 2005 WTO Ministerial at Hong Kong, I had produced a study, entitled: "Trade Liberalization in Agriculture - Lessons from the First 10 Years of the WTO" (published by APRODEV, Brussels). This study computes the global destruction of farm livelihoods from the WTO process. I am sure if Bill Clinton were to have a look at this report, he would regret the US decisions to force the developing countries to open up to cheap and highly subsidised agricultural commodities.

Importing food is like importing unemployment. Importing cheaper food destroys the ability of the importing country to produce food thereby once for all destroying its ability to remain self-sufficient. In any case, Bill Clinton must know that out of the 149-odd Third World countries, 105 have already become food importing because of the faulty economic policies being pushed by WTO/IMF (and subsequently WTO) in the past 30 years or so.

I am sure the remaining of the Third World countries too would soon join the ranks of food importing countries if the Doha Development Round gets through the way it is.

Take a look at the report below:

Former U.S. President Clinton Apology to Haiti Surprises NS Activists.

By Bruce Wark
The Dominion

Sunday, May 16, 2010

HALIFAX—Nova Scotia activists are expressing surprise that former US president Bill Clinton has apologized for flooding Haiti with cheap American rice beginning in the mid 1990s. During testimony before a US Senate committee last month, Clinton admitted that requiring Haiti to lower its tariffs on rice imports made it impossible for Haitian farmers to compete in their domestic economy. The trade policy forced farmers off land and undercut Haiti's ability to feed itself.

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton—now a UN special envoy to Haiti—told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee March 10. “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”

“I would like to believe that Clinton has had a change of heart,” wrote Heidi Verheul of the Halifax Peace Coalition in an e-mail. “But he actually needs to do something to challenge the free market shock doctrine economic policies that are being designed to further subjugate and impoverish Haiti,” she added. “The policies of aid and development in Haiti have continuously served to undermine democracy [and] local economies, and have driven tens of thousands of people from their land, enslaved them in sweatshops, makeshift homes, and absolute grinding, miserable poverty.”

Clinton’s apology attracted scant media attention in the US and none in Canada. It was included as part of an Associated Press news agency report that was published March 20 by the Washington Post. The AP report from Haiti’s earthquake-ravaged capital, Port au Prince, suggests world leaders are reconsidering trade and aid policies that make poor countries dependent on rich ones. It quotes UN aid official John Holmes as saying that poor countries, like Haiti, need to become more self-sufficient by rebuilding their own food production.

“A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have...resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed,” Holmes told AP. “That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti’s a prime example. I think this is where we should start."

The Clinton administration forced Jean Bertrand Aristide to agree to cut rice tariffs drastically when the US restored the Haitian president to power in October 1994. Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, had been overthrown by a US-backed military coup in 1991. In return for $770 million in international loans and aid, Aristide was required to agree to a business-friendly “structural adjustment” program that, aside from cutting food tariffs, also included freezing the minimum wage, cutting the size of the civil service, and privatizing public utilities. (Aristide annoyed the US by being slow to implement such policies, making Clinton’s apology last month all the more surprising.)

Janet Eaton, trade and environment campaigner for Sierra Club Canada, said members of the global democracy movement have long known about the failures of the globalized food system, and Clinton’s apology to Haitians only reinforced what many activists have talked and written about for years.

“When high-profile leaders admit that economic globalization isn’t working, then it’s time for governments to get on board and look at alternatives.” Eaton added. “It is time to admit that these failures exist and put an end to the aggressive free trade frenzy that is now occurring in Canada, the US and Europe as they vie for foreign markets, raw materials and unfettered free trade.”

Eaton pointed to one alternative in Nova Scotia—a Food Policy Council, which was formally established at a meeting in Truro on April 19. Farmers, consumers, academics, policy analysts and organizations were promoting food security for all Nova Scotians by focusing on ways to grow more of our own food. Eaton contended that growing more local food would help curtail climate change, reduce dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels and alleviate global poverty.

She added, “Haiti should be seen as a metaphor for what can happen on a planetary level if we fail to recognize the crisis we face.”

I hope US President Obama, the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the WTO chief Pascal Lamy are listening. 

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