It all started one morning in August 2011 when three village communities in eastern-central Côte d’Ivoire learned that a Belgian corporation called SIAT was about to move onto their land. Not long afterward, an agribusiness firm started putting in a rubber monoculture on 11,000 ha that the communities had neither sold nor ceded and that SIAT was not entitled to exploit.
According to different sources, transnational supply chains currently account for 30 to 60 per cent of all global trade, and depend on the work of over 100 million workers globally. On average, companies relying on transnational supply chains only directly hire 6 per cent of the labour force they actually employ. The rest is “outsourced”, often scattered across several countries and amongst thousands of suppliers.
The autonomy of African states on seed policy is limited by trade deals, such as free trade agreements or investment treaties, signed by States. Certainly, in principle, each country has sovereignty to sign or not sign these agreements. But they are very often forced to conclude them for financial, geopolitical, security or other reasons. GRAIN published a baseline study of these agreements, either signed or in the process of being negotiated, in June 2016 (see “Trade agreements that privatise biodiversity outside the WTO, Annex 1”). Today, what is the situation?
Morocco will hand the presidency over to Fiji at the Conference of Parties (COP23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place in Bonn, Germany.
The new wave of free trade agreements, written by and for corporate interests, provides little or no benefits for workers, communities, or the environment. Provisions being laid in these new trade deals turn most developing countries into sources of cheap and unprotected labour for transnational companies. Labour rights are being redefined in a way that allows transnational companies to impose brutal working conditions. Once these agreements are signed and ratified, the only legal protection that will fully stand is the abolition of slavery. All other labour rights will be disposable at the companies’ discretion under a wide range of circumstances.
India is being cornered to open up its markets at the ongoing negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). A free trade agreement between 16 Asian countries, including massive manufacturers like China, RCEP will bring down import duties to zero on goods, both agricultural and industrial, for more than 92 per cent of tariff lines. Being the world’s largest trade agreement, it will impact half of the world’s population including 420 million small family farms that produce 80 per cent of Asia’s food.
Land activists around the world celebrated the news of the collapse of one of the world’s biggest land grabs: the Indian company Karuturi Global Ltd’s 300,000 hectare farmland deal in Ethiopia. CEO Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi claimed he would bring food security to the horn of Africa while boasting he would soon join the ranks of the world’s biggest food producers.
In June 2017, Amazon, the world’s third largest e-commerce company, announced its acquisition over Whole Foods Market for US$ 13.7 billion. Amazon’s move seems to follow the footsteps of Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company that invested US$ 1.25 billion in buying the Chinese online food delivery service Ele.me in late 2015.
Since 2002, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have negotiated a reciprocal free trade agreement known as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU). While it was marketed as the magic bullet towards the ACP countries’ industrialisation and development, it is in fact an unfair agreement that is anchored in a colonial framework.
Though not highly publicised, the EPA has faced continued opposition from across the ACP countries, not least because of its devastating effect on small scale farmers. The case of some African countries presented here is illustrative of the way communities are fighting to regain control over their resources and protect their markets from the flooding of cheap EU processed foods, along with pesticides and genetically modified organisms.