A funny thing happened to minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, Luiz Fernando Furlan, as he was making his way through the streets of Hong Kong to the 6th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization last week.
He saw a group of Brazilians participating in a demonstration against more liberal rules for international trade. What is going on here, thought Furlan, as he realized that the Brazilians had joined French farmers in protesting free trade in agricultural produce?
More free trade in agricultural produce is the single most important objective of the Brazilian government in all its commercial negotiations.
And the biggest obstacle to the Brazilian desire for market access for it own agricultural produce, and that of other developing nations, has been the French refusal to eliminate its farm subsidy program.
European subsidies, led by the French, distort the market, creating obstacles that stymie developing nations exports and, in some cases, even destroy domestic developing nation markets because the highly-subsidized European goods are so cheap, explained Furlan.
What the poor nations need is market access so they can earn income and, eventually, even buy goods from the rich nations, said Furlan.
Speaking to journalist about his disconcerting experience with the Brazilian protestors, Furlan pointed out that Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of poultry and one of the biggest exporters of pork.
Now, said Furlan, poultry and pork are mainly family farm products in Brazil. So why are Brazilians joining European small farmers in protesting free trade?
An answer came from Alberto Broch, of the National Farm Workers Confederation (Contag), who says, "The Minister represents only 10% of Brazilian farmers. We represent three million family farmers who produce subsistence crops, or maybe a little for the local marketplace, and no more. Minister Furlan does not represent these people, he does not speak for them."
Broch went on to say that an example of the problems the really small farmer faces is with dairy produce. That market has been opened and if import tariffs on dairy goods fall below 10% it will put 1.8 million family farmers out of the dairy business, he says.
Statistics from the Family Farm Federation (Fetraf) show that in Brazil 40% of the agriculture sector GDP, and 10% of total GDP, comes from family farms.
There are approximately 4.5 million family farms in Brazil. Out of that total, 4 million occupy less than 30% of the country’s total cropland and get less than 30% of the credit that is available for the sector.
Brazil and another four nations should receive today award "Special Recognition for South-South Solidarity" for the country support to the recovery and reconstruction of the countries in southeast Asia that were affected by tsunamis at the end of 2004.
The ceremony will take place at the United Nations offices in New York. The award will be given by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Brazil was chosen due to the country prominence in private sector contributions. The other four countries honored are China, Algeria, Benin and Samoa.