The agricultural exception

The weakness and chronic instability of farm incomes has justified special treatment for the sector

4b_lexceptionagricoleMost of the world’s large countries have laid the foundations for a prosperous economy primarily by developing their agricultural sector. Since the Great Depression of the 30s, most States have intervened to solve what economists called the “farm problem” in reference to the weakness and chronic instability of farm incomes. The “agricultural exception” has justified special treatment for the sector. As a result, governments have implemented support policies, market regulation and measures to exclude agriculture from trade agreements.

However, starting in the 80s, a strong wind of economic liberalism blew in favour of State withdrawal and the opening of agricultural markets. The World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and a number of States believed that the free market would solve the “farm problem.”

But twenty years of that policy have solved nothing. In recent years, food, financial and economic crises that are mostly due to deregulation have added to the problem. The agricultural sector has not been spared. The dairy crisis that hit products practically everywhere around the world in 2009 perfectly illustrates the “problem” and the “exception” of agriculture.

In the short term, following the example of the United Nation’s Special Reporter on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, we want States to make sure that their WTO commitments respect the primacy of human rights over trade, especially when it comes to the right to food.

Ultimately, there will be no lasting solution to these problems without recognizing the right of States to adopt their own agricultural policies and assure their food sovereignty. The Quebec and Canadian governments must join the fight to recognize the agricultural exception and the right of all people to food sovereignty, as they did when they recognized the cultural exception at UNESCO.

Visit the Web site of the Food Sovereignty Coalition

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To find out more about our model and the agricultural negotiations at the WTO, visit the Web site of the GO5 Coalition for a Fair Farming Model: