Theme 1. Trade Policies and Local Markets


Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture policies; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and; to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production.


International trade is currently based on unsustainable production systems and is controlled by Transnational Corporations (TNCs). They use their power to capture local (and national) food systems, obliging people to buy food that they control. Through mechanisms such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), bilateral and regional free trade agreements, TNCs are establishing, controlling and benefiting from global markets for food and agricultural commodities.. These destroy livelihoods and local economies and prevent all peoples from having sufficient, safe and healthy food produced in ecologically sustainable ways. For Food Sovereignty to be realised, international trade in food needs to be reduced, its governance moved from the WTO and brought back under democratic control of producers and consumers. New governance systems must ensure that the negative impacts of international trade, for example ‘dumping’, are stopped and local – markets are given priority. These trade issues cannot, in practice, be separated from those concerning knowledge/ control/ guardianship/ access to natural resources, seeds, land, water and biodiversity — all of which are directly affected by Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) /WTO /Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) /bilateral trade accords etc. because of investment and intellectual property provisions, for example. But these issues are covered to some extent by other thematic working groups.

What are we fighting for?

To shorten the link between producers and consumers and remove agriculture from the WTO. Making producer-consumer links shorter heightens consumer awareness of production systems and reduces”food miles”. It also restores small farmers’ / peasants’, livestock keepers’ and fishers’ control over their local markets, stimulates the setting up of local cooperatives, Community Supported Agriculture schemes etc. This process requires the development of policies that support local marketing of food, including mechanisms for stabilising national or regional markets, so that small farmers / peasants, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and other small-scale food producers can maintain their livelihoods through selling products in local and national markets.We are also fighting for a radical change in the rules that govern food and agriculture at the international level, removing these from the WTO and challenging bilateral and regional trade agreements and policies,based on the neoliberal model of economic development which reduces farmers, fishers, food and farming to focus on tradeable commodities. The neoliberal/free market model is incompatible with food sovereignty.


– Are there any experiences or examples of improving, maintaining or rebuilding local markets that should be shared among the movements in order to strengthen our struggles? Can we propose clear criteria or principles for the type of trade to which we want to give priority?

– Is food sovereignty only for people in developing countries? Some supporters of food sovereignty argue that rich countries should not be allowed to protect and support food production for domestic consumption, even if they don’t destroy other markets through dumping. Their opinion is that rich countries should open up their markets for more imports from developing countries even if it will harm small scale producers in the rich countries. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

– Others see the struggle not as a North — South trade issue but one between contrasting food systems and supply chains; one based on the corporate/industrial agriculture and trade in food commodities and the other based on small/family /peasant farms, pastoralism, artisanal fishing and other small-scale food production for (primarily) local consumption. Would you agree?

– What kind of trade rules do we want?
Food sovereignty is not a fixed set of trade rules. It gives the space and possibilities for different kind of trade policies. But are there, on the basis of food sovereignty, some basic trade rules we can outline? Do you agree with the proposals below? What do you want to add / take away?

Each country has the right and obligation to prioritise the production of food for domestic consumption.

Each country, in both the North and global South, has the right to decide the level and type of protection, support and regulation of food production and food imports for domestic consumption so long as this does not lead to the dumping of food and agricultural commodities on other markets.

International trade agreements on food, agriculture and fisheries that impact negatively on domestic production and consumption should be challenged and changed; for example taking the WTO out of agriculture.

All kinds of direct or indirect subsidies for food exports and other forms of dumping must end.

Developing countries should be allowed to support exports by small-scale and poor farmers if this improves their livelihoods and it does not impact negatively on small-scale producers in importing countries.

Commodity agreements for international supply management and price control have to be developed to restrict overproduction and guarantee farmers, fishers, pastoralists and other small-scale producers equitable and good prices that fully cover their costs of producing food in socially and environmentally sustainable ways .

Fair trade initiatives and other arrangements, which give the producers better prices and bring producers and consumers closer (e.g. local markets), should be supported.
International trade rules have to be flexible and diverse to meet different social, cultural and economic development needs. The concept of “one size fits all” has to be eliminated.

What are we fighting against ?

TNC domination of international trade. National governments and regional blocs, especially the EU and the US/NAFTA, are influenced by TNC interests and lobbies when negotiating trade policies. These interests become clearly visible in the different spaces where international trade polices are defined: the WTO, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the US Farm Bill and the practices of TNCs (such as dumping, taking control of markets, imposing vertically integrated production and distribution systems etc.).


Given the current international context of international trade, on what do we need to focus our efforts? What are the forces we are fighting against? Are these specific companies and governments? What importance should we give to the WTO, regional and bilateral trade agreements and other spaces at international and regional levels?

What Can we Do About It?

In the area of international trade there are many different “battle fields”. There is the WTO, and there are bilateral and regional agreements, government policies, TNCs, changing consumption patterns and so on.


If we want to stop the destructive dynamics of international trade in food, what should be our joint priority for action? Is it the fight against dumping and the countries and companies that practice dumping, combined with struggles in each country for controlling imports?

To what extent will our demand for the localisation of markets realise lasting benefits and achieve food sovereignty?

What is needed to strengthen our movements and our collaboration in this area?