Courtesy Reuters

A Removable Feast

FOOD SECURITY AND TRADE

The debacle of the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle last year underscored how much can go wrong with world trade -- and how insecure the future of trade liberalization has become. America's overreaching unilateralism offended delegations from around the world and undercut the multilateral premise of the gathering. Seattle's timing and location were equally disastrous, in contrast to the carefully planned (and relatively secluded) launch of the Uruguay Round, which began in 1986 in Punta del Este. And the industrial nations, led by the United States, did not even address one of the most vital issues: how developing countries can use technology and freer trade to better feed their populations. This need for "food security" touches on almost all the hot-button issues surrounding trade -- especially agricultural trade liberalization and genetically modified (GM) food -- yet the American media barely noted it.

What does food security entail? First, it involves improving a developing nation's access to cheaper food from comparatively advantaged exporting countries. It is generally more efficient and cheaper than self-sufficiency, in which a nation tries to produce all crops that its population needs, regardless of the cost or the country's natural endowments. Food security also requires that richer countries lower their tariffs on all goods from developing countries so that emerging markets can earn cash to import the food they need. Finally, the drive for food security should tap the potential of GM technology for developing countries to both enhance nutrition and boost agricultural output.

Rather than ushering in a new era in global economic interdependence, however, Seattle exacerbated the insecurity and palpable alienation among developing countries. The influence 0f environmental and labor groups was hurt by the presence of their radical fringes, which confirmed the worst fears of developing countries: that turtle suits and dolphin costumes are really forms of protectionist cross-dressing. It may have been a "defining moment" for the diverse array of groups who see the WTO as a symbol of multinational

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