Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 30, 2008

The Doha Failure is a Victory for the Sovereign

The failure of the Doha World Trade Organization talks is a victory for the people of all countries.

The past has seen a tendency of nations to give up their sovereignty to some unaccountable organizations or contractual agreement frameworks. The EU, IMF, NATO or the WTO are example for such. These organizations restrict the ability of future national governments to change basic national policies. With the rise of such constructs it did not matter anymore how people voted because basic elements of economic and security policies had been given away to some anonymous plutocracy and could only be changed by paying an ever increasing price.

The failure of the Doha talks may well be the long needed turnaround of this trend.

It does not matter who is to blame for these failures. The WaPo editors predictably blame China, the developing countries blame the U.S. and EU and their huge farm subsidies.

The developed countries insist on heavily subsidizing their own agriculture sectors. The $307 billion farm bill which passed the Senate in May is bigger than the GDP of most countries.

Afraid of mass imports of hugely subsidized goods from the U.S. and EU, developing countries insisted on their right to put tariffs on these and to protect their local long term food sources from economic ruin. The rich countries tried to deny that right to the poor even while they insisted on subsidizing their exports.

The real issue at stake here was the responsibility of a nation to provide for its people. That duty includes their security in a wide sense. Any nation is obliged to take care that it can feed its people from its own soil.

The failure of the Doha talks reaffirms this responsibility. The ability to adopt national policies on food production stays with the local people. Everyone who believes in real democracy should welcome this event. It is a win for the sovereigns of the world - its people.

Posted by b on July 30, 2008 at 6:54 UTC | Permalink


.. and mourned by Simon Crean of the Australian "Labor" Party - ha!

Posted by: DM | Jul 30 2008 9:12 utc | 1

.. (try again)

.. and mourned by Simon Crean of the Australian "Labor" Party - ha!

Posted by: DM | Jul 30 2008 9:14 utc | 2

.. and the gist from unending expert commentary on the ABC (Aus) - is that the whole point of DOHA is to lift the 3rd world out of poverty. And they want to know who is to blame for this failure!

Posted by: DM | Jul 30 2008 9:29 utc | 3

The Free Market(TM) is an optimum way of exchanging goods, but the Free Market(TM) is a lousy way to manage resources, which include farmland and water.

We have already seen how food imports have driven African farmers out of business, leaving vast streches of arable land in southern Africa lying fallow in the face of food shortages on the continent.

Some things should not be left entirely to the Free Market(TM)

Posted by: ralphieboy | Jul 30 2008 10:54 utc | 4

Any nation is obliged to take care that it can feed its people from its own soil.


Posted by: vimothy | Jul 30 2008 11:14 utc | 5

Any nation is obliged to take care that it can feed its people from its own soil.


National government is a contract with the people. The people give up some of their personal rights and concede to the government a monopoly of force. In return they demand security. Food security, freedom from starvation, being one of the major points.

If "the state" or the government does not deliver this, it loses legitimacy.

Posted by: b | Jul 30 2008 12:09 utc | 6


To clarify, are you arguing that the state should provide all or enough food for the population from its own soil, or just for general autarky with some (homegrown) private sector involvement?

Also, I am not starving, nor do I appear to be in any great danger of starving. However, I would not say that "the state" provides my food, and my food certainly does not come solely from the UK (thank god)! Does the UK state shed legitamacy because of this?

Posted by: vimothy | Jul 30 2008 12:53 utc | 7

and as walden bello argued earlier this week, the failure of doha is also a positive condition for curtailing some of the inputs into climate change

Derailing Doha Trade Deal Essential to Saving Climate of the most important steps in the struggle to come up with a viable strategy to deal with climate change would be the derailment of the so-called “Doha Round.”

Global trade is carried out with transportation that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of the world’s use of oil goes to transportation activities which are more than 95 per cent dependent on fossil fuels. An OECD study estimated that the global transport sector accounts for 20-25 per cent of carbon emissions, with some 66 per cent of this figure accounted for by emissions in the industrialized countries.

From the point of view of environmental sustainability, global trade has become deeply dysfunctional. Take agricultural trade. As the International Forum on Globalization has pointed out, the average plate of food eaten in Western industrial food-importing nations is likely to have traveled fifteen hundred miles from its source. Long-distance travel contributes to the absurd situation wherein “three times more food is used to produce food in the industrial agricultural model than is derived in consuming it.”
A sharp U-turn in consumption and growth in the developed countries and a significant decrease in global trade are unavoidable if we are to have a viable strategy against climate change. This will set the stage for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, including from the energy-intensive transportation sector. The outcome of the Doha negotiations will determine whether free trade will intensify or lose momentum. A successful conclusion to Doha will bring us closer to uncontrollable climate change. It will continue what the New Economics Foundation describes as “free trade’s free ride on the global climate.”

A derailment of Doha will not be a sufficient condition to formulate a strategy to contain climate change, but given the likely negative ecological consequences of a successful deal, it is a necessary condition.

Posted by: b real | Jul 30 2008 15:00 utc | 8

I totally agree, b. At long last a victory for people who are exploited the most by the corporations and impoverished by the global IMF/WTO racket. The big predators on the globalization front are truly the enemies of humanity.

Posted by: Copeland | Jul 30 2008 16:25 utc | 9

Yeah, like farmers in the developing world -- a big victory for them.

Posted by: vimothy | Jul 30 2008 16:40 utc | 10

There's nothing like being acculturated to a plantation system (like coffee), driven off the land you used to farm for food crops, and then be shackled to imported food by the political/corporate entity that arranged for your perpetual serfdom.

Posted by: Copeland | Jul 30 2008 16:54 utc | 11

Yeah B is right... and Lamy looked really dead on his vacillating feet. Here, there have been NO demonstrations (afaik; if there were any they were invisible, I even passed by right in front) as if the usual WTO protesting crowds knew that the negotiations would fail? Or, the meeting was somehow not considered an important venue (though it was)? I talked to an old marxist friend, what, he said, no, demos, no and nothing more.

The problem as I see it is double, and related, one, these are merchants haggling in the marketplace, in a sort of unconnected parallel universe (feeding ppl is not really their concern, international or global matters are boiled down quarrels about tariffs on bananas, which is not illegitimate at all but perhaps beside the point and stupendously symbolic) two, and this a pet peeve of mine, the method of negotiation.

For tricky negotiations it is better to meet face to face but not with delegations from more than 100 countries, not with crowds of ppl, etc. Lamy was forced to create a smaller group of the powerful...which pissed off everyone else no end and doomed the whole enterprise. If countries had the chance to state what was really important for them, or what were the inalterable demands/sticking points - hopefully these might be, once stated, considered seriously and discussed and possibly even amended following goodwill and so on - there might be, as they say, a way.

But a limited souk where the powerful Mind you, the top ppl get paid to be frustrated, finally it all comes down to an empty exercise, so what, on to the next round, call the chauffeur, James, Jamesy, Ahmed, Pedro, or Elvis, here is some money for your daughter’s teeth!

There are ways, outside of these kinds of big meets, to have negotiations at least continuing and thus moving forward, like a sort of diplomatic equivalent of an internet forum, to give just one image. But that means that even even small players have a voice, provided they can articulate it, and have it accepted, even if only in ‘theory’ - So that doesn’t happen. The whole process, as a method, is flawed, nay doomed, to be journalistic here, and seems in fact designed for that very purpose.

Borders are artificial and international trade exists de facto and is regulated. Pragmatically, that has to be accepted, and worked, on, and changed..

Posted by: Tangerine | Jul 30 2008 17:32 utc | 12


To clarify, are you arguing that the state should provide all or enough food for the population from its own soil, or just for general autarky with some (homegrown) private sector involvement?

Well, I would not preume to speak for B, but from my point of view: If necessary, if everything else fails, yes to the first point. But only then.

In "normal" conditions the government of a state has still both the right and the obligation to ensure that basic services are available to the people, food being about the first of them. And protecting national producers (by keeping out predatory trans-national corporations) is a perfectly rational strategy to achieve this. Reasons for this are: You would not want a foreigner to have monopoly POWER in your country, which he might be tempted to abuse. (Keep in mind that any CEO has an obligation to the shareholders to increase profits, and can be sued if he fails them) Then there is the volatility of the marketplace, today the prices might be low and tomorrow they might be high - meaning today your producers go belly-up and tomorrow they are no longer there when you need them.

This might not be such an issue for a country like the UK, which is still among the more wealthy. For an african country where the sales of food are a big part of the national GDP, this is a life-and-death issue - literally. Even countries like Argentina now feel the need to regulate food export and food prices to prevent famines (and associated riots and revolutions).

Posted by: No So Ana | Jul 30 2008 20:21 utc | 13

Well, UK agriculture has basically been destroyed and cannot provide enough food for the country, far from it. The consequence is that the huge benefits of the City and the strong financial system of London are partly if not mostly eaten up by the massive costs of buying foreign food to feed British people. And with the collapse of the fiancial sector and the rising food prices, I expect pain soon to come to UK.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Jul 30 2008 22:19 utc | 14

food first: Monsanto's Vultures are Closing In on the Food Crisis

The vultures of corporate America are closing in on the carcass of cheap food. With corn selling at $5.86 a bushel (up from just $2.00 in 2005, and $4.28 just six months ago), the food price crisis has been somewhat of a windfall for farmers. But the briefly glimmering hope for rural communities is about to go out.

Last week Monsanto announced it would increase the price of its corn seed by $100 a bag, or about 35%. $100 a bag! So if you are a farmer with 1,000 acres in corn, Monsanto will be demanding an extra forty grand this year.

The timing on Monsanto's unilateral price hike is especially heinous. With the world thrust into a profound food crisis, governments shaken, and children hungry, Monsanto is pushing the envelope on one of the world's most important grains. This in combination with the outrageous inflation in the price of fertilizer, (over 400% in the past two years, due to the increase in the price of natural gas, from which fertilizers are made) means farmers are once again barely braking even.

Posted by: b real | Jul 30 2008 22:25 utc | 15

Thanks b real for providing just one more glaring example of why Monsanto is one of the vilest corporate enemies humanity has ever faced. there is no better example of the global enslavement corporations like Monsanto lust after and are capable of achieving thanks to the despicable legality of patenting life. their incredulous behavior when it comes to devastating human livelihood, whether it's family farmers in North Dakota, or cotton growers in India, is almost impossible to fathom.

Posted by: Lizard | Jul 31 2008 0:41 utc | 16

source: Antara - Jul 27, 2008

Jakarta - Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, who was also acting as coordinator of the Group 33 (G-33), a group of 44 developing countries, said the negotiation process in the WTO (World Trade Organization)'s Doha Development Agenda (DDA) were not transparent and not open.

"Many countries, including Indonesia, are not aware of what has happened because everything in the talks is not transparent," Minister Pangestu said in her ministry's press release here on Friday.

Pangestu urged the chairman of the WTO negotiation committee to publicize the results of discussion held by members of the small group G-6 (United States, European Union, Brazil, India, Australia, and Japan) in their closed-door meeting during the Doha negotiations.

"We urge the Chairman of the Negotiation Committee to make sure that all process of negotiation be conducted more openly and transparently. A small group which has been set up, should only discuss issues concerning the group, and not all issues of the negotiation," she said.

WTO's Doha Development Agenda is being held in Geneva, Switzerland from July 21 to 26, 2008.

Meanwhile, Rediff India abroad in its website reported that WTO Director General Pascal Lamy on Thursday (July 24) faced serious charges of creating darkness at noon in the crucial Doha modalities negotiations when several trade ministers complained about their exclusion from the hard bargains he is conducting among seven members that also include India.

On Wednesday, Lamy constituted a new group of seven members - the United States, the European Union, Japan, Brazil, India, Australia and China - to try and resolve some six difficult issues that are eluding any agreement.

In the process, over a score of trade ministers who have been invited to the same ministerial meeting are in the dark and not involved in the negotiations, which will impact their final commitments.

Switzerland's hard-hitting trade minister, Doris Leuthard, told Business Standard "this is unacceptable". It is wrong to call the trade ministers here and then keep them in darkness, she said.

Mauritius, on behalf of over 80 ACP (Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific) countries, said they were disturbed over this lack of complete transparency.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said she represents 45 countries in the G-33 coalition but has no clue as to what is being negotiated among the seven countries.

She said this was unfortunate as in some of the issues on which the G-33 is fighting - special products and special safeguard mechanism - the coordinator was not involved. "Indonesia and other ministers are left in the dark waiting room," said Pangestu.

In response to the criticism, the WTO chief said he shared the members' frustrations. He added this was one way to move the process, arguing that the final agreement had to be endorsed by all members at the trade negotiations committee meeting.

Posted by: Ho Kares | Jul 31 2008 5:33 utc | 17

Yes this truly psychopathic

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Jul 31 2008 11:52 utc | 18

Well, I would not preume to speak for B, but from my point of view: If necessary, if everything else fails, yes to the first point. But only then.

Fair enough. Maybe in the States where you got lucky with the geography, this is feasible (though not desirable, surely). However, I live on a crappy little island and I rather like being able to eat a variety of food at a relatively low cost. It also suggest that the only legitimate state is one in which the government provides for the people from a position of food autarky... i.e., North Korea? Are there any other self-sufficient states?

In any case, why should this be the case? Ceteris paribus, what's the big deal if I swop you some potatoes for a box of mangoes? I want some variety in my diet, damnit!

Now, we can agree or disagree about whether governments really do have the "right and obligation" to ensure food is available to all people. But that's not quite the same as producing food. Food is available to me, but that's thanks in a large part to international trade, the accused here.

Regarding the protection of domestic producers, that's also fair enough and worth pursuing to an extent (IMHO), but what about domestic consumers? What about opening up foreign markets for domestic producers? What about cases (like the food exporting countries, you know, who produce a lot of food) where free-er trade will increase the relative price of food? Good for food producers!

I dunno -- I have yet to read a good argument in favour of self-sufficiency. There are better ways to approach the relevant issues than blanket statements and attachment to policies along ideological grounds.

Having said that, I'm not shedding many tears for Doha. Why? Trade and cross-border investment are growing regardless. More importantly -- and this according to World Bank projections -- the effects of a "likely" Doha deal on the world's poor are less than impressive -- with "only $16 billion
going to the developing world."

Posted by: vimothy | Jul 31 2008 14:25 utc | 19

Arable land is a resource in exactly the same way that oil & metals are. Oil has to be processed & land has to be farmed to create useful product. Saudi has the worlds greatest reserves of oil but if its oil could not be produced & refined economically, it would be importing oil and would have no self-sufficiency in oil.

Both the raw product (crude-oil & arable-land) as well as the technical capability to utilize it (farming & drilling/refining) are resources. But DOHA and the globalist establishment do not recognize arable land as a resource, with the exception of when White Zim farmers are involved.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Jul 31 2008 15:22 utc | 20

Yes, the UK is in bad shape in that area. Anyway, the whole argument shows up the absurdity of this kind of control of int’l trade (see vimothy at 19) being handed to power blocks made up of countries, seeing countries as having different status, etc. For Lamy the top were 7 but one was the EU. Really it is the prime example of mismanagement due to national definitions. The borders of countries do not correspond to geographical, regional, altitude, climate, coast, river ways, water, culture, food knowledge, habits, local trade, etc. While national definitions may ‘work’ in other areas - education and armies, constructed by people, the land and its management cannot be drawn arbitrarily, cut up in this artificial way. Or only so when everyone has plenty and any crackpot scheme will serve. When private real estate in terms of nations becomes a world guiding principle (buy our tomatoes or else! No we can’t grow any but we buy them cheap!) immense problems arise, have arisen.

Posted by: Tangerine | Jul 31 2008 15:48 utc | 21


I'm not sure I follow you, old bean. Land is a resource, yes, but what exactly is your point?

Posted by: vimothy | Jul 31 2008 15:58 utc | 22


The poor in the world are shafted anyway... but I would rather not see subsistance farming replaced with large-scale cash-crops for export. The first case ofwhich may or may not be sufficient to feed a family, but the second case will result in a few years in farmes evicted and pushed to the slums of the cities, the land concentrated in the hands of a few, the income put into swiss bank accounts.

Yes, mechanised farming of cash crops is more "efficient". Yes, the second case would result in an increase in nominal GDP. But please come out and tell me if you really want people to starve in slums, even if the alternative is poverty?

I know that you brits did just go this way 200 years ago, when you forced your smallholders out from the land and into the factories (well some of them, the others went hungry...) For my part, I would rather have a more equal than a more efficient world, if efficient means that "less efficient" people starve at the wayside.

Posted by: No So Ana | Jul 31 2008 17:47 utc | 23

When a community or country has sufficient arable land and the expertise as well as available affordable manpower to grow the crops it needs, its first option will be (and should be) to grow its own (most especially staples) rather than import -- for any number of reasons including several already mentioned. This is the "self-sufficiency by default" one would expect 100% of the time barring some additional circumstance.

the options to "self-sufficiency by default" are really not options. They are adjustments & refinements that sometimes make sense but are often very damaging. They can be for mutually-beneficial political/economic purposes (aimed at mutual self-sufficiency) i.e international trade agreements or EU farm regulations. Or they can be highly exploitative such as those imposed by colonial masters i.e. the re-alignment of many African countries from being self-sufficient food producers to producers of cash-crops for the benefit of colonial masters. Or its the strings attached to food-aid that forces poor countries to import food from the West rather than from their neighbors (to the benefit of regional self-sufficiency).

Its amazing how almost overnight, the perception of Africa as a barren drought-ridden continent incapable of self-sufficiency has evolved into one of a continent with extensive highly suitable arable land for growing bio-energy crops.

To underscore Not So Anas point, those countries that neglected their capability for self-sufficiency and relied too heavily on imports of corn, especially from the USA are now very prone to hunger & starvation. Because the corn is there but its feeding cars not people.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Jul 31 2008 18:24 utc | 24

what jony said

I have been trying to find the reference and can't but seem to remember President Carter getting the Japanese to import soybeans. They went along with it and the soy farmers they had soon went out of business as they were not able to compete with cheap US beans.

Then something happened that pissed off the US and they withheld soybeans as punishment. that messed up the japanese a bit and may very well be the reason they are so against importing rice.

something similar happened to Mexican farmers too. once corn was allowed into their country without tariffs the corn farmers there could no longer afford to raise corn. now that ethanol has driven up the price for everyone there is no one to raise it as the small farmers have gone away. and no one can afford to buy it

Posted by: dan of steele | Jul 31 2008 19:22 utc | 25

. once corn was allowed into their country without tariffs the corn farmers there could no longer afford to raise corn. now that ethanol has driven up the price for everyone there is no one to raise it as the small farmers have gone away. and no one can afford to buy it

That is exactly the mechanism at work here. The developing countries finally found out how this worked and are resisting. Next step: attack them ...

Posted by: b | Jul 31 2008 19:49 utc | 26

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