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Congressional Hearing: Impact of Trade Liberalization on Family Farmers

In collaboration with Congressional representatives who are concerned about inequities in agriculture, including Representative Peterson (R-PA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Hilda Solis (D-OH, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), the Oakland Institute will organize a Congressional hearing on the impact of agricultural liberalization on small family farmers and agrarian economies around the world. This hearing is planned for fall 2005.

The Agreement on Agriculture remains a very contentious issue. Market access for agricultural commodities - agriculture being the only area where developing countries might compete head-on with the industrialized nations - was the carrot offered to the developing world to join the WTO. The reality is that the WTO is structured to protect the interests of politically influential corporate agriculture in rich countries like the U.S. at the expense of millions of poor farmers across the Third World.

Using its powerful influence on the World Bank, IMF, and international trade agreements, the U.S. has pressured poor countries into removing subsidies that favor local producers, and lowering tariff charges on foreign imports. With its own subsidies intact, the U.S. dumps cheap subsidized food into developing nations, ravaging the livelihoods of small farmers. The numbers are alarming: The U.S. and the E.U. subsidize their agriculture to the tune of almost $1 billion a day. In effect, the WTO pulls a reverse Robin Hood: robbing the world’s poor to enrich American and European agribusiness.

In such a context, it is vital to strengthen national mobilizations around agriculture in preparation for the Hong Kong WTO ministerial where agriculture will remain a key issue. The Oakland Institute will bring together small family farmers (for example, a cotton grower from Mali, a rice farmer from South Korea, a corn grower from Mexico, a vegetable and specialty fruit grower from California, a landless representative from the MST, Brazil, among others) who will testify at the Congressional Hearing at the Capitol. This will be followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices where the farmers will have an opportunity to meet and lobby key members of the Finance, Ways and Means, and Agriculture Committees. Congressional visits will be followed up with a press conference for farmers rights in Washington, DC to generate media coverage of the issue.