Jane Kelsey Speech at GE Free RALLY 16 NOVEMBER 2002


Address by Dr. Jane Kelsey, Professor of Law at Auckland University and member of Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA)

Question: What does so-called 'free trade' have to do with GE?
Answer: Absolutely everything!

No to GE means No the World Trade Organisation!

That was a key message of the protests against the WTO in Sydney this week, although the media seemed determined to keep the actual issues off the front page.

Why is the WTO important? Because its global rules can lead to heavy punishments on governments who dare to introduce GE-free laws, to impose bans on GE imports, to require labelling of GM foods, refuse patenting of life forms, to guarantee indigenous control over taonga.

This is not about 'trade' in the old fashioned sense. The WTO imposes rules on patents, investment, agriculture, services, environmental regulation, and more.

That's why agribusinesses, drug companies, biotech companies and other transnationals are so keen to get even tighter agreements at the WTO, and similar 'free trade' agreements between countries, like the one with the US that our government seems prepared to go to war to secure.

They want WTO rules so that companies like Monsanto can grow what they want, where they want and sell it anywhere in the world.

They want WTO rules that allow those companies to corner the world market on producing seeds, to force farmers to use GE seeds and to sell their crops only through the TNC's own distribution chains.

They want WTO rules that force farmers to use terminator seeds and allow them to sue farmers who keep seeds to regenerate for themselves, while leaving the risk with the farmers when those crops fail or they can't find markets for GM crops.

They want WTO rules that legitimise biopiracy by companies that patent indigenous knowledge, remedies and seeds.

They want WTO rules that guarantee the unfettered right to invest, whether in land or privatised producer boards like Fonterra or Crown research institutes, anywhere in the world

They want WTO rules that will let them control the world's entire food chain. To quote a senior executive in Monsanto: what you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain. Since water is as central to food production as seed is, and without water life is not possible, Monsanto is now trying to establish its control over water.

They are already well down this path. The WTO has already begun striking down any environmental, health or social regulations they deem 'disguised barriers to trade'.

The WTO has already struck down the 'precautionary' principle, and demanded that countries provide scientific proof of health or environmental damage to the satisfaction of a panel of free trade ideologues before any restrictions are imposed.
Countries that refuse to change their laws may suffer crippling trade sanctions.

And because these agreements have teeth and are enforceable, they can trump any multilateral environmental agreements, including those on biodiversity.

This has already spilled into major battles over bans on GE food.

The US has challenged the European Community's four-year ban on importing GM corn and other crops, introduced because of citizens demands. The US knows that directly challenging the EC would risk provoking a massive outcry and protests that could undermine current world trade talks. Both the US and EC governments and their transnationals desperately want to keep those talks on track.

So the US is trying to isolate the EC through the back door. Most recently, this involves dumping of GE grain as food aid in poor countries like Zambia and Nicaragua. Those governments face a serious quandary. Their people are desperate. But these countries are also key sources of biodiversity. And their major export markets are in Europe. Contamination could provoke an irreversible economic, ecological and social disaster. The US idea is to get them to pressure the EU to remove its ban.

Other countries are under pressure from the US through the WTO.

China has been attacked for its opposition to GM foods and begun to back down.

Sri Lanka suspended its ban on 21 categories of food imports that could not be certified as GE free.

Thailand, Japan and South Korea have all been threatened for moves to introduce compulsory GM labelling.

The fight against the WTO brings together struggles for food security, indigenous sovereignty, consumer rights, health, democracy and biosecurity.

The next WTO ministerial meeting next year in Cancun, Mexico will be a major rallying point, led by indigenous nations and peasant farmers in Mexico.

Before that meeting people need to make it clear that, as protestors did in Sydney this week that: No to GE means No the WTO!

This is a fundamental battle for our futures, not only for Aotearoa, but for every country in the world to put the interests of its peoples and the democratic rights of its citizens ahead of the demands of transnational corporations and major powers who want their rules to rule the world.

For further information click on this link: www.arena.org.nz