China and the WTO: Boon or Threat?
Asia’s farmers worry about
Chinese exports of GM foods
By Burmese writer
The planned entry of China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has
sent a wave of uncertainty through the 135 member countries at a key phase
of negotiations to break down tariff barriers.
None of those
participating in the WTO Millenium Round discussions can forecast the
impact China’s entry will have on food and agriculture trade.
WTO aims to cut and abolish food export and production subsidies and
reduce and remove import tariffs among the member countries. It makes
imported food cheaper. This is good news for consumers but bad news for
farmers in protected countries who will receive less money, said David
Brown, agriculture editor of the Daily Telegraph in London.
Some member countries worry about the potential influx from China of a
huge amount of low-cost products onto the world food market. China is
already growing genetically modified (GM) crops and many experts believe
the move will accelerate the switch to GM food in other Asian countries as
protectionism is gradually swept away and farmers are forced to become
more competitive to survive.
GM crops are grown from seeds
altered in the laboratory to make them more efficient. Some crops resist
pests without pesticides and can be sprayed with weed killer without
dying. The spray only kills the weeds.
concerned about the impact of GM crops on the environment. The European
Union wants more time to check whether GM crops are environment-friendly
or not. The United States, meanwhile, wants free access to Europe and
other countries for its GM food and claims there is no risk to human
health and nature.
At stake is feeding the world’s growing
population. Farmers will be pressured to produce more food on the same
amount of land. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organisation
publication, the world has to feed six billion people, and 800 million of
them go to bed hungry, Of those, two out of three – 526 million – live in
Asia and the Pacific.
FAO supports a cautious approach to GM
crops, saying they should not go forward until there is more scientific
evidence, according to a regional spokesman.
world’s largest rice exporting country, is seriously debating the pros and
cons of introducing the new genetically modified seeds.
China, like the U.S., is a firm supporter of GM technology, many countries
believe this new production method is the price the world will pay for
removing export subsidies and taxes.
Many other problems
threaten to disrupt this year’s attempt to secure a fairer deal for all
countries involved in the world food trade.
strict animal welfare improvements included in the negotiations for the
first time. The United States and the Cairns group of countries (which
includes Pacific countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand)
"In the past, the other European countries have been
very reluctant to raise animal welfare standards to the British level
because they have enjoyed a competitive advantage within the European
Union against Britain," Brown said. "Now the EU is using animal welfare as
a bargaining device to gain advantage in the WTO."
addition, the EU and US still spend billions of dollars on export
subsidies. " In Europe, America and Japan, subsidy have not come down.
They just go up," said Vichai Sriprasert, a leading Thai rice
dealer. " With the WTO, we have meetings, we have agreements that
subsidies will have to be removed but in actuality they are
Member countries’ farmers are suspicious. All the
countries try to protect their farmers in various ways, such as using
export subsidies and import tariffs.
There are also
difficulties with the so-called "green box" mechanism for
governments to give subsidies to farmers for environmental and social
purposes. The U.S. is particularly suspicious of the EU. This issue is
being carefully watched by WTO.
Some experts accuse the WTO
of not caring about environmental impact. Others criticise WTO for meeting
behind closed doors, lacking democracy and transparency.
Mekong region countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia are considering pros
and cons of entering WTO. Countries in this region are now examining the
environmental impact of feeding the rising global population. They want to
see more sustainable development for future
"Subsidies, using chemicals and growing GM crops
help boost high yields and produce more income." Vichai said. " I
would prefer to see crops produced organically, but in the foreseeable
future commercial farmers have to use them to remain competitive in the