Cairns, US, EC, Korea voice dissatisfactions on agriculture text

Geneva, 10 Oct (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - - Comments and views from various protagonists in the agriculture negotiations, voiced at the informal Heads of Delegations process at the WTO, on the latest draft formulation of a mandate for negotiations in agriculture, suggest that the criticisms and dissatisfactions voiced were perhaps pro forma, intended to ensure that the US-brokered compromise text between the Cairns and EC positions, is not upset by any chairman’s revisions accommodating the viewpoint of one or the other side.

Both India and Mexico reportedly said they were willing to accept the text on agriculture, but that they would revise their stands if the existing text was altered in any way at the behest of others.

India made this particularly clear on this, after the US attempted to suggest that the Chairman should revise the text, in the light of views expressed at the HOD meeting, including that of the US which tried to dilute or relegate the S&D issue to some declaratory views, and insist on rules applicable to everyone to move towards a ‘market-oriented’ agriculture sector.

Brazil and a few other Latin American countries, found fault with the text speaking about ‘long-term’ objectives of the reform process in agriculture, with the Brazilian ambassador, Mr. Celso Amorim citing Keynes often quoted (and also misquoted) views that “in the long run we shall all be dead.”

It was not very clear from briefings of trade officials, whether Amorim was referring to the current negotiators or the negotiators of the Uruguay Round.  However it seems applicable to the views from the WTO (and IMF and World Bank and their think tanks) about the long-run benefits of trade liberalization.

[John Meynard Keynes, in his Tract on Monetary Reform, said, “Now in the long run this is probably true. But this long run is a misleading guide to our own affairs. For, in the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task, if in tempestuous seas they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

[This Keynes view is not only applicable to agriculture talks, but to other WTO advices about free trade, the 50-year old GATT/WTO system and its key role for growth, employment and alleviation of poverty!]

While expressing their concerns and criticism of various parts of the text, most of the delegations who spoke Wednesday, reportedly took the position that this could provide ‘a basis’ for further work and negotiations, but that their views on the agriculture and other parts of the declaration could change if any further revisions or changes moved in one direction or other.

According to participants at the meeting, the major protagonists - the Cairns group, the EC and other Europeans who are protecting their domestic markets and agriculture and use subsidies to export and dump the products in third markets, and Korea and Japan whose major attempt is to protect their domestic markets, and the US with its own agenda (and more recently providing ever increasing domestic support and subsidising exports, by export credits) are all trying to achieve their ends through proxies.

The United States is trying to weaken or reduce the Special and Differential (S&D) treatment provisions in the text, and the EC too making similar noises (about need to ensure that there are no separate rules for developing and developed countries).

Korea, Japan and others are trying to equate their ‘non-trade’ concerns with the S&D for developing countries - an attempt rejected by the key developing countries, principally of Asia and Africa, but also some from Latin America, who have raised the issue prominently.

India, Zimbabwe for African group and some of the others made clear that, while not satisfied with the drat, but willing to work on that basis, they would revise their views and withhold consensus on this and other parts of the declaration if the ‘balance’ in the current text is changed in any revisions.

The developing country members of the Cairns group, particularly from Latin America, supported the stand of other developing countries on the S&D issue.

Several are aware that if the other developing countries, particularly the major ones, are sought to be short-changed in the agricultural mandate, they could easily tilt the balance in the negotiations by siding with the EC.

Several of the developing countries also made clear privately that they will not accept any attempt by the EC (France within the EU is pushing this) to push the environment issue into the agriculture mandate - to enable Europe to provide support to its agriculturists in the form of ‘green’ and ‘blue’ box measures.

With an eye on such measures, the Latin American Cairns group members wanted to inject the concept of not only ‘trade-distorting’ but ‘production-distorting’ domestic support.

Several developing countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan and others want a ‘development’ box to enable them to provide support to their agriculturists, without fear of being challenged at the WTO.

These countries say that so long as this conflict between ‘trade-distorting’ and ‘production-distorting’ relate to the practices of US, Europe, Japan, Korea and others, they would have no problems. But if the concept is used to deny them the ability to help their agriculture sectors to develop, then there would be some major problems in the talks.

Some of the comments suggest that the US, and to some extent Europe (with Hungary speaking for the Cepta countries, but perhaps also the EC position) want the S&D concept is being sought to be weakened.

Hungary, for example, suggested that there is no need to bring in S&D as a separate item in the agriculture text, since it was a cross-cutting horizontal issue to be tackled across all areas of negotiations - a view that was not acceptable to several of the developing countries.

The general indication from trade diplomats, at the end of the HOD meeting was, that the agriculture issue was so ‘politically sensitive’ in major countries that no one was in any doubt that if the text was altered in some way to accommodate one or the other side, the compromise would just collapse. – SUNS4986

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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