The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) condemned the so-called ‘Geneva Package’ of the WTO, describing it as “hypocritical and shameful” amid the global hunger pandemic “the WTO helped cause” and should be “thrown to the dumpsters” together with the organization.

“It’s clear that the WTO railroaded these watered-down agreements that pander to growing cries of its abolishment while continuing to protect the interest of imperialist countries and their transnational corporations,” said Chennaiah Poguri of PCFS Asia.

The Geneva Package, which was announced at the end of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, comprises seven key documents including the COVID-19 vaccine waiver, curbing fishing subsidies, and reforms for the organization among others. The delayed multilateral conference gathered representatives from WTO’s 164 member states and settled on decisions that negotiators described as “historic.”

Movements from the Global South including PCFS, however, say that the vaccine waivers are too narrow and have done nothing to prevent pharmaceutical TNCs to profit from people’s suffering and death.

“At a time when COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the lives of people in the Global South, the WTO made sure that corporate profits are left unthreatened, clearly putting greed above life. It’s a quintessential outcome from the WTO,” said Poguri, who is also the chairperson of the Asian Peasant Coalition.

The WTO’s pandemic response document gave in to the growing international pressure to waive COVID-19 patents but did not include therapeutics and diagnostics — important tools in curbing the COVID-19 infection waves. Moreover, Poguri pointed out that the declaration gave WTO the power to determine “eligible” countries in producing the life-saving jabs, notably excluding China and possibly sanctioned countries.

Food Crisis

“What’s more appalling is the hypocrisy of the WTO to double down on the neo-liberal rhetoric of ‘free trade’ and ‘re-globalization’ to address the current global food crisis it helped cause,” Poguri added.

Three key outcome documents of the Geneva Package pertain to the skyrocketing prices of goods, especially foodstuffs. These include a Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity, a Ministerial Decision on World Food Programme (WFP) Food Purchases Exemptions from Export Prohibitions or Restrictions, and an Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies.

“In fact, WTO has hidden behind humanitarian efforts of the WFP to justify maintaining public stockholding subsidies as trade distorting and shrink the policy space of developing countries to respond to food inflation,” Poguri said.

Global prices of goods, especially food, have been skyrocketing in the past 15 months despite record-level yields and outputs in both agriculture and fisheries. Wheat prices alone have jumped 66% higher in just a year. These untenable prices are estimated to plunge at least 860 million people into extreme poverty—those living under $1.90 a day—by the end of 2022.

PCFS asserts that the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), which came to force in 1995, has “demolished developing countries’ capacity to feed themselves” and gave agrochemical and agri-trade TNCs unprecedented control over the global food supply. The AoA, according to Poguri, has caused the current fragility of global food security and facilitated rural plunder in the Global South.

The United Nations earlier warned that poorer nations, especially net food importing countries (NFIC) are at high risk of hunger from the rising prices of foodstuffs. In Sri Lanka, the price of rice—an Asian staple—has climbed 133% following its government’s inability to import the grain.

Subsidizers go scot-free

The ministerial declaration also praised itself for the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies which it said is meant to curb illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by way of ending harmful subsidies.

“WTO members have for the first time, concluded an agreement with environmental sustainability at its heart,” WTO Chair Okonjo-Iweala said in the conference’s closing session. “This is also about the livelihoods of the 260 million people who depend directly or indirectly on marine fisheries.”

Small fisherfolk groups and advocates, however, had earlier said that the current draft “threatens the ability of island nations to manage their own fish stocks” and puts the onus of change on small-scale fishers.

“The final Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies have let China and other big subsidizers walk away with their market share while overburdening small fishers with stringent regulations and criminalizing subsidies for their livelihood,” Fernando Hicap, chairperson of PCFS Asia member National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines (PAMALAKAYA).

Globally, fishing vessels flagged from five wealthy countries alone account for 87% of high seas fishing globally and China, Taiwan, and South Korea account for 63% of fishing efforts in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of developing countries.

Earlier, PCFS and fisherfolk organizations including PAMALAKAYA and Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG) called out the negotiations in a unity statement, which stated: “The 20-year negotiation on harmful fisheries subsidies in the WTO has only served to stall any potential meaningful reform and cover up for ocean-grabbers and plunderers. Without holding big subsidizers and fishing monopolies accountable, WTO’s claim to work for ocean conservation and equal opportunity holds no water, so to speak.”

The WTO also launched a Fisheries Fund to ensure the agreement’s implementation, tapping the Philippines, Mauritius, and Barbados as its pilot countries.

“As we have said before, the WTO is beyond reform. The only way out of this food crisis is to abolish WTO once and for all and for states to fulfill the people’s right to food and pursue food sovereignty long shackled by WTO’s AoA,” Poguri said. ‘#