August 30, 2002

NICK SCHULZ REPORTS ON THE PRO-GLOBALIZATION MARCHES IN JOHANNESBURG. It sounds like this conference is disappointing its organizers. It might actually lead to something useful:

“We want the freedom to grow what we want, when we want, with what technology we want, and without trade-distorting subsidies or tariffs,” said Barun Mitra, a farm activist from New Delhi who brought two-dozen farmers from India.

The WSSD has for several days been abuzz with talk of possible trade agreements among participating nations. To that end, these farmers were hoping to let Europe and the rest of the developed world know that biotech crops are not to be feared, but instead will “help them do more with less,” said Mitra. The European Union currently props up its farmers with billions in agricultural subsidies and, more perniciously, keeps out foreign goods with restrictions on genetically modified foods — all to the detriment of Africans and others in developing countries.

But the United States is currently leading a charge here in Johannesburg to phase out all agricultural supports over five years. Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is entering a complaint to the World Trade Organization against the European Union. Zoellick says the EU’s moratorium on genetically modified imports is a restraint to trade and a violation of WTO agreements, a position supported by the farmers who marched on Wednesday.

Personally, I credit James Lileks, though I suppose it’s barely possible that I’m overstating his role.