CANCUN (MEXICO) – On 10 September 2003, during the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s Fifth Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, Lee Kyung-Hae, former president of the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation, took his life in front of police barricades erected to prevent access to the Centro de Convenciones where the WTO is meeting.

In doing so, he hoped to focus the world’s attention on the plight of farmers in South Korea and across the globe, many millions of whom have been impoverished and even driven to suicide as a direct result of the impact of neo-liberal economic globalization on food production, livelihoods, and the environment.

The WTO is systematically undermining subsistence farming and the lives of small farmers around the world. The globalization of agriculture and food systems has been marked by a move to industrial export-oriented production heavily influenced by the interests of transnational corporations (TNCs), who are increasingly able to dictate the way that food is produced traded and marketed. It has led to the establishment of intellectual property rights systems that permit TNCs to expropriate farmers’ knowledge of food production techniques and basic resources such as seeds and it discourages sustainable agriculture and the production of healthy food.

Friends of the Earth International supports and defends the right of all to demonstrate and freely voice their beliefs. Lee Kyung-Hae was a committed campaigner with many years’ experience and his death was a significant political protest that has to be understood in a cultural context. His views and those of peasant farmers around the world must be listened to by those governments meeting in Cancun to force through trade rules that promote the interests of transnational corporations.

Friends of the Earth International supports the position of La Via Campesina. The WTO is an inappropriate forum for food and agriculture and therefore the current negotiations on agriculture should be stopped in Cancun. Real solutions – both in the short and the long term – require a deep and radical shift away from export-oriented industrial agriculture. WTO rules should not apply to food and agriculture.

Finally, Friends of the Earth International wishes to express its support for the Korean people in their aspirations to achieve justice, equity and dignity for everyone, particularly small farmers who are suffering the consequences of WTO policies so deeply.