Why We Should Mobilize on the Sacramento Ministerial



Why We Should Mobilize on the Sacramento Ministerial

By: Doyle Canning, Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project /

From June 23-25th 2003 the Ministers of Trade, Agriculture and Environment

from 180 nations, including all member states of the World Trade

Organization (WTO), will meet in Sacramento California at a summit hosted

by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), USAID, and the US

State Department. An “Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology” will

run concurrently with the Ministerial to host multinational agribusiness

and biotechnology corporations. This summit, hosted by Secretary of

Agriculture Ann Veneman, will attract thousands of media outlets from

around the world, and will be an important stepping stone for enshrining

the primacy of US interests at the September negotiations of the Agreement

on Agriculture (AoA) in Cancun, Mexico. This summit gives social and

environmental justice movements in North America a unique opportunity to

converge, act in solidarity with movements around the world, and to

highlight some of the most pressing issues of our time: the threat of

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to ecosystems and human health; the

ever widening gap between the very rich and very poor; the increasing use

of trade agreements to subvert democratic process; and the unchecked power

of multinational corporations to lay claim to our food, our farms, and our


The Sacramento Ministerial is a strategic moment for social movements

concerned with stopping further trade liberalization, the implementation

of new trade agreements inside the WTO, and the implementation of a new

round of trade agreements including the Free Trade Area of the Americas

(FTAA) and Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The Sacramento

Ministerial is a key preparation time for both the September WTO

Ministerial in Cancun and the Summit of the Americas scheduled for Miami

in November. The Sacramento Ministerial presents itself as a rare

opportunity to for activists to confront a policy making session which

will have enormous repercussions on all trade agreements. Without direct

opposition, trade policy will continue on its present course–pitted for US

corporate interests and against small farmers, ecosystems, and food

security in the South–through the Cancun meeting and into Miami.

The Agreement on Agriculture

Agriculture could well be the WTO’s Achilles’ Heel. A failure to reach

agreement on agriculture before the deadline of March 31 could unravel

negotiations in other areas like industrial tariffs, the new issues,

services, and TRIPs, leading to WTO Director General Supachai

Panitchpakdi’s great fear: lack of any movement toward consensus prior to

the Fifth Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, in mid-September. A heavily

bracketed text showing lack of agreement on so many points, WTO

bureaucrats know only too well, helped precipitate the Seattle debacle

(Bello, 2003).

By all accounts, it is amply clear that agricultural trade liberalization

(together with trade liberalization and privatization measures

implemented under Structural Adjustment Programs) has indeed harmed small

farmers and impoverished the poor further, making them more food

insecure. Small and subsistence farmers in developing countries have

suffered loss of income and increased bankruptcies, displacement and loss

of land and heavy job losses in agriculture. The greater emphasis on

growing export cash crops in preference to food crops and the new trade

regime has also eroded the food supplies of low-income families in many

countries, and families are now reported to be eating fewer meals every

day (PANAP, 2002, pp. 9-10).

Since its inception at the Uruguay Round, the Agreement on Agriculture

(AoA) has been a disaster for rural communities and food security the

world over. Because of contentions around subsidies, GMOs, and

liberalization’s impact on trade in agriculture, the AoA is understood by

many analysts as the most volatile element of the current WTO

negotiations. The internal discord at the WTO over US and EU subsidies in

agriculture, as well as the inharmonious regulations of GMOs, could be the

lynchpin to derailing the entire WTO process. USTR Zoelleck has called the

EU ban on GMOs “immoral” and Veneman recently proclaimed that “our

(USDA’s) patience is just running out” (Becker, 2003). But recently an

anonymous senior White House official explained that “There is no point in

testing Europeans on food while they are being tested on Iraq” (Becker,

2003). There is inconsistency in the White House about when the most

strategic time to launch the suit is–not about why. Seen by US

corporations as “unfair barriers to trade” under WTO rules, the US plans

on taking the EU to the Dispute Settlement Body of WTO. Sacramento is

essentially a stage to showcase and force the “benefits” of GMOs to

Southern nations, show up the EU and condemn its precautionary stance on

GMOs, and be leveraged as an instrument for the US to assert its dominance

and push for a GMO future in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry.

USAID: Foreign Policy, Trade, and GMOs

Primarily financed by USAID, food aid is becoming the biggest market

mechanism for GM foods from the US which have been rejected elsewhere. The

undue pressure to import GM corn is not just promoting the dumping of

hazardous products that cannot be sold through free markets, the fact that

this corn could be contaminated with the Bt Starlink corn amounts to

feeding our children and nursing mothers a toxic cattle feed.

National Alliance of Women for Food Rights (India) March 7, 2003

USAID, also a co-sponsor of this event, was in the international spotlight

last summer for its aggressive use of “food aid” to southern African

nations to push GMOs. With the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable

Development as a backdrop, this tool of US agribusiness insisted on

dumping whole corn kernels on the famine stricken nations of Zambia,

Zimbabwe, and Malawi–nations that were forced to chose between GMO foods

that were unfit for human consumption, and starvation. They were also

being forced to open their markets to GMOs by default, as once these whole

kernels hit the ground, they could cross-pollinate and pollute non-GM

varieties, as has happened in Oaxaca Mexico.

USAID, under the guidance of the Bush Administration, also recently

launched a new regime of aid and development policy under the rubric of

the Millennium Challenge Account. The new policy, “Foreign Aid in the

National Interest: Promoting Freedom, Security and Opportunity,” was

unveiled at the Heritage Foundation in January. This is the “third major

foreign aid policy statement since the second world war” (USAID, 2003, p.

1)–the third major policy change since the historic meetings at Bretton

Woods at the end of WWII. The plan works in concert with the IMF and World

Bank to outline a policy of granting aid based on compliance with free

market reforms.

Levels of foreign assistance must be more clearly tied to development

performance and to demonstrations of political will for reform and good

governance. When leaders demonstrate willingness to undertake and follow

through on difficult political and economic reforms, they should receive

steady increases in aid from the United States and other donors (and) be

rewarded in other tangible ways: with debt relief, with incentives for

foreign investment, and with trade liberalization – such as the bilateral

free trade agreement recently granted to . The United States should use its

voice, vote, and full influence within the World Bank and other

multilateral development banks to terminate development assistance to bad

governments. The principles of U.S. foreign policy should extend into

international development – meaning that international financial

institutions should stop financing grossly corrupt (regimes). The United

States must work closer with other bilateral donors to coordinate pressure

on bad, recalcitrant governments (USAID, 2003, pp. 10-11).

USAID is yet another vehicle for US and corporate interests to further

tighten the noose on Southern nations who would think of straying away

from colonial relations with the North, hesitate to privatize, or embrace

land reform or strong labor and environmental laws. “With private

assistance predominating, U.S. official assistance will have to develop

stronger partner-ships with the full array of private sources” (USAID,

2003, p.2).

The Healthy Forests Initiative:

As debt and hunger continue in the South, structural adjustment and roll

backs at home are accelerating under the Bush Administration, the future

for our nation’s remaining national forests is under siege. Agriculture

Secretary Veneman recently hosted a press conference with Gale Norton and

President Bush on the so-called “healthy forests initiative,” a policy

that environmentalists warn is

similar to the 1995 logging-without-laws Salvage Rider, which suspended

environmental laws and banned pubic participation to allow commercial

logging for ‘forest health’ reasons. However, what we witnessed under the

Salvage Rider was ancient old-growth forests and roadless areas falling to

the chainsaw…In fact, enough trees were cut from our national forests

during the Salvage Rider to fill 800,000 log trucks lined up for over

6,800 miles. Unfortunately, if the Bush Administration gets their way, our

public forests will suffer the same consequences, only this time under the

guise of ‘fuel-reduction’ (Koehler, 2002).

The Threat of New GMOs: BioPharms, Wheat, Fish, Trees

Secretary Veneman is a former lawyer for Monsanto, and a key player in the

battles over introduction of new GMOs–like GMO wheat, fish, and trees.

GMO canola has destroyed the organic and non-GM canola farmers of the

Canadian Prairie. Canola, like wheat, has many close wild cousins, and now

wild plants have become Round-up resistant “super weeds.” Wheat farmers in

the Midwest of north America are fighting tooth and nail to stop the

commercialization of GMO wheat–as it will cross pollinate with thousands

of native grasses, as well as other food grains like barely and oats. And

then there is the push for a boom in so-called BioPharming–the insertion

of genetic drug genes into farm crops like corn. The biotech industry says

it will save the family farm, but this very technology poses massive

risks to the human food supply (the ProdiGene scandal of late 2002 where

pharmacrops were harvested from the field along with human food, is a case

in point.)

The stakes for farmers, and for our ecosystems, have never been higher.

Field trials of Genetically Engineered Trees are in hundreds of locations

in the United States, and the industry is developing trees which are

“Round-up Ready” or have reduced lignin content (the trait that makes

trees strong and stiff). While GMO corn pollen can travel by winds or

direct seed movement for a few miles, the pollen of trees travels hundreds

of miles. And as if that weren’t enough, the Bush Administration is

seeking approval for the commercialization of GE fish–salmon with super

growth hormones. Commercialization of GE insects and mammals aren’t far


The State Department, USAID, USDA

The trio sponsoring this biotech bash in California are also actors in the

so-called War on Terror. As Colin Powell brandishes teaspoons of

make-believe anthrax at the United Nations, USAID’s new policy proclaims

that the axis-of-good will be rewarded with bilateral trade agreements,

and those governments that stray from free market reforms will have US aid

cut off. The USDA integrated into the Department of Homeland Security, and

Veneman proclaimed her support for the DHS by calling it “bold and

visionary.” The new Department of Homeland Security will enhance the

already strong protections we have in place throughout the federal

government. It will also ensure a stronger line of defense against

potential threats to agriculture and our homeland” (USDA, 2002). The food

safety budget of the USDA has increased $42 million dollars, although this

is not an appropriation to adequately test GMO foods! USDA has initiated

47 criminal investigations related to counter terrorism and homeland

security activities (USDA, 2002).

WTO: The Road to Cancun:

Who, then, are the beneficiaries of the new trade regime? Those who hold

large resources of land and capital, (including water for agriculture),

control supplies of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and

pesticides, and manipulate food supplies and prices in the international

market. These are mainly Transnational Corporations (PANAP, 2002, p. 12).

The WTO meeting in Cancun is a very important target for movements who are

fighting for a democratic future. Cancun will see the negotiation of

agreements on services (water, health care, and education); agriculture,

intellectual property, and the gamut of liberalization that puts corporate

profit before all else. While the discord over the war in Iraq steals the

headlines, the trade war over GM, agriculture, and market access between

the EU and the US is brewing and will unfold in Sacramento and Cancun. And

then there’s the looming FTAA, and the fast track to CAFTA, where

The Bush Administration will press for broad liberalization in market

access for goods and services, including e-commerce; the elimination of

non-tariff barriers; science-based food inspection systems; strong

protections for intellectual property and for investors; increased

transparency in government regulation and procurement; strengthened

capacity to protect workers and the environment; and meaningful dispute

settlement mechanisms(USTR, 2003).

Sacramento gives us an opportunity that we can’t afford not to embrace. It

is a moment to claim political space and to tell the world that the hungry

must have food, that we will build democracy and economic justice, and we

will reclaim an ecological future. It is a moment to indict neoliberalism

and to struggle for humanity. It is a moment we can not ignore.

No GMOs! No more hunger! Real Security is Food Security! No WTO!


Official Site:

Corporate Exhibitor Site:

USDA press release on Sacramento:

Works Cited:


Becker, E. (Feb 5, 2003) “U.S. Delays Suing Europe Over Ban on Modified

Food” The New York Times:

Bello (2003) Is

Agriculture the WTO’s Achilles’ Heel? The Road to Cancun: Report from the

Tokyo Mini-Ministerial

Koehler, M (2002) Native Forest Network Statements Regarding President

Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”

Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (2002) Empty Promises: Empty

Stomachs: Impact of the Agreement on Agriculture and Trade Liberalization

on Food Security. PANAP: Penang, Malaysia.

US Embassy India (20 December 2002) Senators Urge WTO Dispute Case Against

EU Biotech Policy,

USDA (2002) Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman Regarding the Creation of

a Department of Homeland Security Release No.


USDA press release on Sacramento:

USTR (January 8, 2003) United States and Central American Nations Launch

Free Trade Negotiations”