Churches coalition urges human right to food at WTO

By Ecumenical News International
November 26, 2009

Ministers at a World Trade Organisation gathering in Geneva next week seeking new ways of alleviating poverty and generating growth, are being called upon by faith groups to respect the right to food as enshrined in human rights declarations - writes Peter Kenny.

Activists opposed to greedy capitalism are to protest in the streets of Geneva on 28 November but the organisers have said the demonstrations will be peaceful and not a repeat of riots that took place in the US city of Seattle 10 years ago.

Disagreements about rules on trading in agricultural and industrial goods led to the collapse of talks in Geneva in 2008.

One of the key sticking points to achieving a new set of global trade rules, according to the WTO members, has hinged on the area of agriculture related to food trade, food security, economic viability and sustainable farming in the developing countries.

A group of religious-based organisations and civil society groups under the banner of the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance sent a petition on 24 November 2009 to WTO Director General Pascal Lamy and the chairperson of the WTO's General Council Mario Matus. In their letter, they called for the world trade regulator to respect the right to food as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"We hope to see the inclusion of the right to food … as part of the solution towards addressing the current food crisis," said the faith leaders.

They urged:
• The recognition of the right to food in the WTO negotiations.
• Just and sustainable agricultural production and trade systems.
• Safeguard measures that address import surges and price volatility and the right of all countries to produce for domestic consumption and ensure their food self-sufficiency.

Lamy wrote in the Kenyan-based Business Daily newspaper on 24 November, "The WTO Ministerial Conference … will provide an occasion to consider the best ways to generate growth and alleviate poverty in these [the world's poorest] countries."

A deal by the 153 members of the WTO under its latest set of negotiations called the Doha Round, "represents one of the most valuable tools at our disposal to help meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals", Lamy stated.

The food campaigning coalition said in their letter to the WTO officials, "We believe it is important for WTO members to uphold a common vision of the right to food, which allows countries to produce and have access to an adequate supply of food while ensuring a fair income for their food producers."

They said trade rules are needed that will end "dumping" of products in developing countries, referring to lucrative subsidies for farmers in developed countries.

The signatories of the letter cited an address by Pope Benedict XVI to the UN food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, at the World Food Summit on 16 November when he said that preference must be given in access to international markets for those products coming from the poorest areas, which today are often relegated to the margins.

The signatories of the petition sent to the WTO included: the Belgium-based Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network, Bread for the World in Germany, Christian Aid in Britain, Christian Care in Zimbabwe, Christian World Service in New Zealand, the Church of Sweden, Church World Service in the United States, the Churches Health Association of Zambia, the economic Justice Network in South Africa, Catholic Presentation groups from a number of countries, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Pax Christi International as well as the Geneva-based World Alliance of YMCAs and the World Student Christian Federation.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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