For over a decade AWI has watched global free trade agreements wage war on animal protection laws. This September, we took our fight to the front lines and attended the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in Cancun, Mexico.
Just minutes before the opening ceremony commenced, AWI's Wendy Swann took advantage of a rare opportunity and approached U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman directly to convey our position that legislation designed to protect animals should not be threatened by implementation of the WTO. Secretary Veneman was given a copy of AWI's most recent Quarterly and our free trade brochure, both detail the imperative to include animal welfare protection in all trade discussions generally and support humane family farmers around the world specifically.
As the conference began, opening speeches by officials representing the WTO and the United Nations, as well as Mexico's President Vicente Fox, all emphasized the importance of sustainable agriculture and the desperate need to assist least developed countries and fight poverty.
In a particularly eloquent statement, delivered on behalf of Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, the Secretary General conveyed the following thoughts: "…we must tackle the broader issue of trade in agricultural products—an issue that can be economically decisive for many countries. We must eliminate the subsidies that push prices down and make it impossible for poor farmers in developing countries to compete.…There are surely better ways to help those farmers in rich countries who genuinely need help, than by subsidizing big exporters so that much poorer farmers in poor countries cannot feed their families. It is not hard to imagine a system under which just about everyone would be better off."
Agriculture was clearly the most important and contentious issue at this meeting. When asked, U.S. and WTO representatives thought the issue of animal welfare as it relates to farm animals was significant and felt certain it would be part of the negotiations, but the topic was not discussed in open sessions. To its credit, the European Union advocated that animal welfare play a significant role in the WTO negotiations. Prior to the meetings in Cancun, countries, including the U.S., had not responded to this suggestion. Therefore, it was considered a victory for animals to hear at the U.S. delegation's non-governmental organizations (NGO) briefing that the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, supported the inclusion of animal welfare in measures exempt from domestic support reduction (see discussion of "greenbox" payments in AWI Quarterly, Summer 2003). In the case of farm animals, humane family farmers' production costs are greater than those incurred by vertically integrated agribusinesses that dominate all aspects of production. Allowing governments to support humane family farmers financially enables them to compete against the cheaper production methods of cruel corporations and continue to supply the increasing demand for products from humanely raised animals.
The WTO claims transparency and a commitment to involving NGOs. As it turned out, however, NGOs were not privy to the actual negotiations nor the press briefings. The only information an NGO could obtain was that which was offered at daily NGO briefings held by WTO staff who reported on the status of the negotiations. NGOs could also attend briefings administered by individual governments at various locations around town.
As the days went on, the meetings continued, but no binding agreements were made. To encourage some sort of progress, the Chairman of the Ministerial Conference drafted a new negotiating text for consideration. AWI was encouraged with the animal welfare provisions included in this draft. But the meeting, as was well reported in the global press, disbanded before any decisions were taken.
For some, the lack of consensus in Cancun suggests that the meeting failed and creates uncertainty as to how the WTO will survive. For others, the outcome signifies success and a positive turning point. Regardless, it is unlikely the WTO will dissolve into oblivion—in fact, specific agriculture negotiations are already scheduled for October and more general negotiations will commence no later than December.
Left unchecked and not forced to include animal protection, liberalized trade will likely continue to have a detrimental effect on sentient beings and the environment. Therefore, as long as these negotiations continue, AWI will advocate the protection of animals. Trade and commerce will not take place in an ethical void.