The joke of a level global playing field: 1st World farm subsidies oppress 3rd World farmers
From the NY Times:
A Third-World 'Farm Aid,' So to Speak
Late last year, in hotel rooms and photo studios in Los Angeles, New York and London, a group of celebrities agreed to get doused with buckets of coffee, milk, cocoa and sugar. It was messy, sticky and sometimes smelly, but it was all in the name of easing world poverty. The photo shoots were organized by the nonprofit advocacy group Oxfam America as part of an ad campaign to raise awareness of what they say is the unfair nature of agricultural subsidies. The campaign urges wealthy nations like the United States and European countries to stop dumping agricultural products onto the world market, which Oxfam argues makes it impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete.
The celebrities who agreed to be dumped on - the actors Minnie Driver, Colin Firth and Antonio Banderas; U2's lead singer, Bono; Coldplay's lead singer, Chris Martin; R.E.M.'s lead singer, Michael Stipe; Alanis Morrissette; and Radiohead's lead singer, Thom Yorke - say they donated their time for the campaign because they believe it is important to level the playing field for developing nations.
"People think more aid will help, but it won't," said Ms. Driver, an actress who is working on her second music CD. "Trade is the surest way of decreasing the savage amount of poverty in our world. These countries have got to be able to trade fairly." Ms. Driver, whose ad features cotton, said she was inspired to participate in the Oxfam campaign after traveling with the group to Cambodia and Thailand last year. She toured clothing factories where women, some in obvious poor health, worked in substandard conditions for menial wages. Cambodia and Thailand are not cotton-producing nations, but Ms. Driver said she chose that agricultural product because she needed to remain relatively clean after her photograph, since she was in the middle of a press tour for a London play.
The ads, shot free by the celebrity photographer Greg Williams, will run this fall in national magazines. The campaign is being produced by Benenson Janson Advertising, a small agency in Los Angeles whose recent work has included a series of ads for the American Civil Liberties Union and a voter registration campaign for a group started by the film producer Norman Lear.
Oxfam's efforts come amid increasing criticism of the some $190 billion in annual crop subsidies that governments in places like the United States, the European Union and Japan pay to their domestic farmers, according to estimates by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This year the United States will spend $14 billion on subsidies to cotton, rice, corn, wheat and soybeans farmers, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
In the United States, Oxfam is primarily focused on the impact that cotton and rice subsidies have on global markets. Oxfam contends that multibillion-dollar subsidies, which they say go primarily to big companies, not small family farmers, encourage overproduction and lower the price American producers charge on the global market. "A cotton producer in the U.S. might produce a pound of cotton for 70 cents, whereas a West African farmer produces it for 45 cents," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, an affiliate of Oxfam International, which is based in Oxford, England. "The West African farmer should have an advantage, but our subsidies allow the U.S. farmer to undersell the African farmer. He's selling it way under his production costs."
Originally created during the Depression to help farmers survive and to promote the stable growth of American agriculture, subsidy programs have continued in part because of strong lobbying by farm groups. These groups argue that, in addition to helping farmers, subsidies serve consumers by keeping the prices of manufactured goods low. Oxfam, however, says the impact of subsidy reduction on consumer prices would be miniscule.
United States trade officials and cotton producers suffered a blow in June 2004 when the World Trade Organization ruled that American cotton subsidies violated international trade rules by depressing world prices and harming farmers in Brazil and elsewhere. A trade appeals court affirmed this ruling in March, but the subsidies have continued. Government payments to American cotton farmers have totaled $16 billion in the last seven years.
Last August, during the World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva, wealthy nations showed signs of willingness to make changes to their practice of supporting generous subsidies. The United States agreed to have talks with four impoverished, cotton-producing West African nations - Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali - about reducing its $2 billion to $4 billion in annual cotton subsidies. Oxfam America estimates that from 2001 to 2003, the presence of artificially cheap American cotton on the world market caused an estimated $400 million in losses to farmers in these West African nations. American producers account for roughly 40 percent of the world's cotton exports, giving them considerable influence over prices, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, an association of the governments of cotton producing and consuming nations.