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Globalisation Anticapitalism :: Coffee
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THE UNITED Nations says that 30 million Africans are facing starvation. That's three times as many at risk as in 1984 when the Live Aid famine relief appeal was launched.
One reason for the food shortage is widespread drought which has ruined crop production. But with a surplus of foodstuffs worldwide, why the threat of famine?
Simple, the crushing burden of 'debt' repayments of poor African countries to Western banks and governments means a lack of money to buy in the food.
Despite the hullabaloo from Gordon Brown and other Western finance ministers about providing debt relief measures, neither the US nor the European Union (EU) will provide the $50 billion aid to Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) which even the World Bank says is needed to reduce world poverty by 2015.
And what aid has been made available, George Bush says, is conditional upon HIPCs implementing 'reforms' ie abolishing trade tariffs, privatisations, ending farming subsidies, etc.
What hypocrisy! While preaching 'free trade' to HIPCs the US, EU and Japan all heavily subsidise their agriculture. This May, Congress passed a bill increasing state payouts to US farmers by 70%, spending $180 billion in farm subsidies over the next three years. Even industrial goods are being protected, e.g. Bush has levied a new 30% tariff on steel imports.
By using their political and economic muscle, Western powers have ensured favourable terms of trade.
THE DROUGHT isn't necessarily a 'natural' disaster. According to a New Scientist report in June, polluting emissions from factories and power stations in the US and Europe over the last 50 years have caused drought and starvation in parts of Africa.
Yet US president George Bush rejects even the weak controls of the Kyoto environmental summit in favour of a "polluters' charter", complete with tax breaks for US energy companies.
It means that poorer countries are forced to import cheaper, subsidised agricultural goods, forcing local farmers out of business and labourers into working on cash crops for export.
The prices of these exports, such as coffee, are driven down to rock bottom by the market power of multinational companies. An Ethiopian coffee farmer who five years ago sold seven sacks of coffee to meet his family's needs, now sells 28 sacks (worth just $60 a year) and his family of 12 are going hungry.
Some say we should shop 'ethically', as if working-class people here can afford to make these choices. We say: cancel the 'debt', nationalise the multinationals, neither free trade nor protectionism but international socialism.
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Article dated 22 November 2002
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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