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US loses Africa in its food fight/GM trade war who decides what we eat? (14/5/2003)

14 May 2003

US loses Africa in its food fight/GM trade war – who decides what we eat?
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"The EU's moratorium violates WTO rules. People around the world have been eating biotech food for years. Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population, offers tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition and protects the environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use." - Amb. Robert B. Zoellick, U.S. Trade Representative

Hear the whole spech and find all the US documents in support of its complaint to the WTO here: http://www.ustr.gov/new/biotech.htm  Using Real Player you can watch not just Robert Zoellick but the whole press conference.

As you will see, in pride of place amongst the US's special guests at the press conference was CS Prakash. Also present is Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute who co-founded Prakash's AgBioWorld campaign. Another contributor is South African GM farmer, T. J. Buthelezi.  

Prakash, as is well known, has a campaign that is based on deceit and has been driven by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Monsanto and its PR operatives - see Corporate Ghosts: http://ngin.tripod.com/deceit7.html.

Buthelezi also has an established relationship with Monsanto:  "Mr. Buthelezi is one farmer who has reaped some benefits. Monsanto paid to bring him more than 300 miles from KwaZulu Natal Province to meet Mr. Zoellick at the company's research site here, an hour's drive from the capital, Pretoria."

Monsanto also paid for Buthelezi to attend a conference in Philadelphia and flew him to St. Louis for an event near the Monsanto campus. http://www.pestlaw.com/x/news/2001/20011125.html

Buthelezi was also on the Fake Parade in Johannesburg, in which the biotech industry and its lobbyists had a hand, and was more recently brought to Europe by GM lobby group EuropaBio. http://ngin.tripod.com/070203d.htm

So, as part of biotech's travelling circus, Buthelezi is known to have been brought to Washington, Brussels, Pretoria, St Louis, London, Johannesburg, and Philadelphia. GM cotton is clearly something very special when a man advertised as a small farmer has that much time to spend away from his fields!

The second article below gives a sense of perspective on the US's WTO action - and on the extent of its failure. It shows that Monsanto's token African farmer was on the platform yesterday to give the US cover for the fact that its very own 'Mr Africa' (as Zoellick was once advertised for his skill in engaging African leaders) has failed to deliver a single African country in support of its WTO case, excepting Egypt which is desperately seeking a US trade agreement.

Contrast that with the hopes in February 2002:  "Mr. Zoellick has many reasons for wanting to deepen the administration's new alliance with Africa on this first-ever trip by a U.S. trade representative south of the Sahara Desert. He needs the support of the developing world within the World Trade Organization... no front is more explosive than the coming showdown with Europe over gene-altered crops. And for that, Mr. Zoellick very much wants Mr. Buthelezi and the rest of Africa on his side."  Yet now it has come to the WTO action the rest of Africa is not just missing but the US has been humiliated by the revolt in parts of Africa where GMOs have been rejected even by the hungry.

What we saw at the press conference yesterday was a desperate Southern tokenism, c/o Monsanto's lobbyists, for a US policy driven by Monsanto's needs - the company's now at the point of 'open more markets or bust!'.

According to the article, back in early 2002 Zoellick was also "figuring out ways to get Southeast Asia and Latin America on board".

So where was Southeast Asia yesterday? Clearly Zoellick never figured it out.  

There is almost no nation supporting the US's WTO action which is not either seeking a free trade agreement with the US or is part of a US free trade area - hence the high number of Latin American countries on the list.  

According to FoE in the first item below, "The Bush White House and American business interests should not have the right to make decisions about what people in Europe get to eat." But let's not lose sight of the fact that they don't only want to determine what Europeans eat. By taking the EU to the WTO they hope to scare the bejeezuz out of every country around the world, not least those in the Global South, that might have the audacity to want to make that choice for themselves.

This is a war to decide what the world eats, triggered by the growing global rejection of GM foods.
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GM TRADE WAR - WHO DECIDES WHAT WE EAT?
May 14
http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/gm_trade_war_who_decides_w.html

Friends of the Earth today urged the European Union to staunchly defend the public's right to exercise choice over GM-food, following the announcement yesterday that the United States has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over Europe's de-facto moratorium.  And if the UK Government does not strongly defend the EU case, it will render the UK's own public   debate on the future of the GM food meaningless [1].

The process for dealing with WTO disputes is complex and slow [2]   but a consultation period will stretch over the summer, with   Europe not due to make its first written submission until November   [3], leaving the dispute hanging not only over the UK's public   consultation, but also the WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico,   scheduled to take place in September.  And the secretive nature of   the WTO dispute resolution process will mean that public concerns   will not be voiced and cannot even be considered.

If the US is successful, the dispute panel ruling is binding and   the EU will be forced to either alter its policy toward GM crops   or face economic sanctions across a range of sectors [4].

Friends of the Earth is concerned that the US action, almost   certainly a result of pressure from the biotech industry, could   remove the public's right to choose on GM food.

Friends of the Earth Policy and Campaigns Director Liana Stupples   said: "The Bush White House and American business interests should not have the right to make decisions about what people in Europe get  to eat.  But the current WTO system means that this could be the case. The British Government and the European Union must act to defend our right to eat what we choose.

"The British public do not want GM food and they have made this clear time and time again.  The United States has become the bully in the world playground, forcing through the big business agenda at the expense of democracy and people power.  This action against the EU could be just the first assault on consumer rights."    

ENDS

Notes:

[1] The Government's Public Debate on GM is due to be launched on   Tuesday 3rd June with regional events in Birmingham 3rd June,   Swansea 5th June, Taunton 7th June, Belfast 9th June, Glasgow 11th   June and Harrogate 13th June.

[2] A full Friends of the Earth briefing on the WTO Disputes   Mechanism is available at www.foe.co.uk[1] /from the press office   at Friends of the Earth.

[3] EU Commission timetable for complaint:
Filing of request by US Mid May
Consultation 60 days Mid July
Request for establishment of Panels immediate
Establishment of Panel +/-45 days End August
Appointment of Panelists 20 days End September
US 1st written submission 3 weeks Mid October
EC first written submission 2 weeks Early November

[4] Previous cases have included the so-called banana wars, where   the US threatened more than US$500 million worth of unilateral   trade sanctions on EU products, including Scottish Cashmere sweaters , bath products and batteries

.. [1] http://www.foe.co.uk

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US COURTS AFRICA IN FOOD FIGHT
February 20, 2002
U.S. Official Courts African Allies For Brewing Biotech-Food Fight
By NEIL KING JR.
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
http://ngin.tripod.com/210202a.htm

PETIT, South Africa -- On his grand tour of Africa this past week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has had many warm chats with top government officials. But when he met a Zulu cotton farmer on Friday, the trade official really perked up.

Both Mr. Zoellick and T. J. Buthelezi, it turns out, are comrades in the biotechnology camp in a brewing trade war with Europe over genetically modified crops. Mr. Buthelezi uses Monsanto Corp.'s bug-resistant cotton seeds; to Mr. Zoellick, this makes him a perfect weapon to use in what is looming as the most expensive and bloody trans-Atlantic trade fight ever.  

Mr. Zoellick has many reasons for wanting to deepen the administration's new alliance with Africa on this first-ever trip by a U.S. trade representative south of the Sahara Desert. He needs the support of the developing world within the World Trade Organization , as became clear at the Doha trade talks last fall. And through Africa he also hopes to gain more free-trade converts among Democrats in Congress.

But no front is more explosive than the coming showdown with Europe over gene-altered crops. And for that, Mr. Zoellick very much wants Mr. Buthelezi and the rest of Africa on his side. He has pushed the issue -- and won at least tentative support -- at every stop on his nine-day trip, which ends Wednesday in Botswana.

Mr. Zoellick likely will soon launch the first missile in this biotech showdown. He says he is "strongly considering" filing a WTO suit against the European Union for blocking the import of U.S. bioengineered seeds. U.S. corn farmers alone say they are losing more than $200 million a year, thanks to a shuttered European market for their genetically modified seeds.  

The U.S. already has levied sanctions against Europe in a banana trade war (now resolved) and a beef-hormone war (ongoing), but those markets are small potatoes when compared with agricultural biotechnology. The European markets for genetically modified crops and seed are potentially worth several billion dollars a year, trade analysts say.

The Europeans, for their part, say they aren't going to let U.S. threats push them to import what many consumers call "Frankenstein food," brought to them by a company they derisively call "Monsatan." So at WTO headquarters in Geneva, officials are bracing for the biggest trade battle in memory. "Biotech will make bananas look like peanuts," says one WTO official.  

Mr. Zoellick would like sub-Saharan Africa to be a chief U.S. ally in the fight. Only South Africa has approved the limited use of bioengineered seeds, first for cotton and more recently for corn. But Zimbabwe, Kenya and Swaziland also have begun to consider their use, with other nations likely to follow their lead. Mr. Zoellick puts the Africa situation in stark terms of hunger and food supply. "It's about productive farmers and feeding more people in places where there's not enough food," he says.

Mr. Buthelezi is one farmer who has reaped some benefits. Monsanto paid to bring him more than 300 miles from KwaZulu Natal Province to meet Mr. Zoellick at the company's research site here, an hour's drive from the capital, Pretoria. Over lunch he tells how he switched three years ago to Monsanto's Bollgard cottonseed -- and doubled his yield in one year.

"For the first time I'm making money. I can pay my debts," Mr. Buthelezi gushes as Mr. Zoellick beams in reply.

In his region, called Makhathini Flats, more than 400 other black farmers have followed Mr. Buthelezi's example, turning the Monsanto pilot project into a potent symbol for biotech supporters in Africa.

Opponents are livid. "Makhathini Flats is pure industry spin, and Robert Zoellick is falling for it all the way," says Andrew Taynton, a local activist who insists Africa's future lies in modern methods of organic farming.  

Biotech cotton is too far from the dinner table to have sparked an uproar here, but farmers this year for the first time are growing genetically modified white corn, which could end up in flour. That has stirred threats of lawsuits and supermarket strikes. Mr. Taynton and others talk of mass action when the World Summit on Sustainable Development convenes in Johannesburg in August.

Mass action is one thing Tanzania's trade minister, Juma Ngasongwa, can do without. He and nine other Southern African trade ministers sat down with Mr. Zoellick in Pretoria during the weekend to hash over U.S.-Africa trade relations and to talk about the future of biotech.

"We are interested in this new technology, but Ambassador Zoellick must first convince the Europeans," Mr. Ngasongwa says. "We don't want this being fought over in the capitals of Africa."

His hesitancy is understandable. He and other ministers say much of the pressure to stay away from biotech crops is coming from diplomats in Europe's embassies across the continent. The tacit threat is that if Africans move into genetically modified food, they could see a drop in aid from Europe, or even outright trade retaliation.

The potential for things getting nasty is one reason Mr. Zoellick so far has kept his biotech diplomacy fairly low key. While in Kenya, he says, he won the firm support of President Daniel arap Moi. In a well-received speech in Nairobi he touted the power of biotech to "increase food security" across Africa. He also raised the subject with, and got a warm show of support from, South African President Thabo Mbeki.

But all isn't sweetness and light. Before leaving Washington, Mr. Zoellick accused the Europeans of "going around Africa and trying to scare people." He is also completely dismissive of biotech critics. "It's equivalent to that period," he says, "when people were opposed to machines."  

Mr. Zoellick has built up a lot of goodwill among African leaders since taking office last year. He has met with nearly every trade minister on the continent. At the Doha trade talks in November he agreed with African countries that public health should trump drug patents in the fight against AIDS, and won their support for U.S. objectives.

Some here say that he, and not Secretary of State Colin Powell, has emerged as the Bush administration's Mr. Africa.

U.S. trade with Africa has ballooned during the past year, thanks to a trade bill that went into effect in 2000. The U.S. now imports many textiles and other items duty-free from eligible African countries.  All of this, of course, earns the U.S. precious capital for the biotech fight ahead. Knowing African support may be reluctant at first and still not enough, Mr. Zoellick also is figuring out ways to get Southeast Asia and Latin America on board.

It won't happen all at once. Malawi's minister for commerce and industry, Peter Kaleso, remembers the bad experience his country had with Western fertilizers in the 1970s. They boosted yields at first, but then depleted the soil. "We want some time to weigh the pros and cons," he says.

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