Irish Government must act on President Higgins’ call to tackle unfair trade relations that facilitate ‘land grab’

President Michael D. Higgins opened the Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice conference in Dublin Castle this week with a clear and unequivocal call to action which tackles the ‘structural issues within the global financial arrangement’ that are accelerating land grabs across the Global South.

Land grabs involve a large scale land acquisition by a multinational company which is carried out without the consultation or consent of the communities affected. The dispossession of farming communities and the removal of community rights to natural resources are defining features of these land deals.

Consequently, local food sovereignty is destroyed, food insecurity is heightened and, as President Higgins highlights, ‘capital is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few corporations’ with detrimental effects for just and sustainable development across the South.

President Higgins calls for a ‘robust regulatory framework’ that is ‘developed collaboratively and transparently involving practitioners from developing countries, […] and which is respectful of, and responsive to, their lived experiences.’

The Irish Government, through its presidency of the EU has a moral responsibility to ensure the President’s words do not ring hallow for those communities worst affected by unfair trade arrangements.

‘The source of [this] hunger is not a lack of food, but the moral affront of poverty, created and sustained by gross inequalities across the world – inequalities of power, economics and technology’, notes President Higgins. These inequalities are sustained by EU policies.

Silas Siakor, campaigner with the Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia, highlights that ‘Ireland’s trade and foreign policies must reflect these realisations.

‘Ireland must also use the EU Presidency to promote Europe-wide policies and actions to tackle the corporate greed that reinforces and sustains unequal power, economic and political relations between Europe and Africa.’

Liberia is facing some of the worst effects of these land deals. Over half of Liberia’s land area is now given over by the Government to rubber, oil palm and logging companies.

The situation facing communities many communities in Liberia impacted by ‘land grab’ is dire. ‘The plantation is on their doorsteps, and their farms and farmlands are being swallowed up by it,’ highlights Siakor, whose organisation is directly supporting many affected communities. ‘There are very few alternative livelihood options once the deal has dispossessed communities.’

For Liberia, and states across the Global South, there is an urgent need to tackle these issues.

‘The Irish Government must act now to make President Higgins’ words a reality,’ says Jamie Gorman of the Liberia Solidarity Group.

‘There are clear steps which the Government can take, starting with a rejection of the Free Trade Agreement model and the implementation of alternative trade models which support human rights and sustainable development.’

Liberia Solidarity Group Recommendations from our report, The Free Trade Trap: Are EU polices trading justice for profit?

1. Reject the Free Trade Agreement model of trade liberalisation.

2. Champion alternative trade models which support human rights and sustainable development.

3. Ensure policy coherence for sustainable and just development across trade, food, agriculture, energy and climate change policies.

4. Incorporation of the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights into Irish and EU trade policy with the Global South.

5. Ensure all policies and practices are proofed to guarantee their contribution to full and substantive equality for women and girls.