ECOSOC calls for reduction, elimination of farm subsidies

Ministers and heads of delegation participating in the ECOSOC high-level segment adopted a Ministerial Declaration which promotes an integrated approach to rural development and advocates the reduction and phaseout of agricultural subsidies.

by Kanaga Raja

GENEVA: A high-level segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted on 2 July a Ministerial Declaration that called for the reduction and elimination of agricultural subsidies and urged WTO member states to ensure full implementation of the Doha Ministerial Declarations.

Without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations, said the declaration, in the agricultural sector “reductions, with a view to phasing out, of all forms of export subsidies, substantial reduction in trade distorting domestic support and enhanced market access (are) needed.”

The Ministerial Declaration, adopted by ministers and heads of delegation participating in the high-level segment, promoted an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

It recommended that “rural development should be pursued through an integrated approach encompassing the economic, social and environmental dimensions, taking into account the gender perspective, and consisting of mutually reinforcing policies and programmes.”

The 37-paragraph declaration, covering a whole gamut of issues, appears to be long on national and domestic policies, but with no new approaches in terms of international policy dimensions.

On the trade negotiations at the WTO, the declaration hewed to the mandate out of Doha and made no suggestions or recommendations on the deadlocked talks and missed deadlines. But in several paragraphs, the ECOSOC declaration pointed out that important issues in implementing the Doha Ministerial Declaration are still outstanding, particularly on the commitments for comprehensive negotiations aimed at substantial improvements in market access.

The high-level segment, in the declaration, also recalled the provisions of the Doha work programme for operationally effective special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries as an integral part of all elements of the negotiations, including schedules of concessions, rules and disciplines and enabling developing countries to take account of their development needs, including food security and rural development, and noted that the non-trade concerns are reflected in the negotiating proposals submitted by members, and said: “We confirm that non-trade concerns will be taken into account in the negotiations as provided for in the Agreement on Agriculture.”

On  market access in non-agricultural products, the ECOSOC called for the reduction or, as appropriate, removal of non-tariff barriers, tariff peaks, high tariffs and tariff escalation to enhance market access, in particular for products of export interest to developing countries.

“These matters must be urgently addressed by the WTO members to ensure full implementation of the Doha Ministerial Declarations, including implementation issues and special and differential treatment, to make a success of the WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Cancun in September,” the ECOSOC urged.

The declaration also invited WTO members to implement the commitments regarding trade-related technical assistance and capacity building for developing countries, particularly the least developed countries (LDCs). Members were also urged to facilitate the accession to the WTO of developing countries, in particular the LDCs and countries with economies in transition, taking into account the individual level of development of each country that applies for membership.

On TRIPS and public health, the declaration emphasized that the full implementation of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, including its paragraph 6, is important for tackling public health problems, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.

Revisiting rural development

At a press briefing on 2 July, the President of ECOSOC, Mr Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala, stressed that 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and, if the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of combatting poverty is to be achieved, then development in rural areas needs to be addressed. He added that rural development is not a new topic but one that is being revisited in light of the MDG of halving poverty.

Placing the ECOSOC discussions in the context of the Johannesburg Rio+10 summit (August 2002), UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr Nitin Desai, said that summit had attempted to connect the Rio agenda with the MDG, particularly that of halving poverty and halving the numbers of people living in hunger.

“We need to go back to basics; this can’t be done through welfare programmes but by accelerating growth, and raising productivity, especially of the poor people,” Desai said. With three-quarters of the poor in rural areas, this translates into bringing back a strong focus on raising rural incomes and rural productivity, he added.

Asked about the language relating to market-access gains in agriculture reforms (in paragraph 5 of the declaration) and whether these gains would accrue to the Cairns Group (of agricultural exporter countries) rather than to other developing countries, Desai merely referred again to paragraph 5.

He then went on to elaborate on paragraph 8 dealing with trade-related technical assistance and said that provision of such assistance and capacity building for developing countries had been recognized, but that much more needs to be done. There will also have to be substantial effort in the poor countries to tap into these opportunities, he added.

Rosenthal remarked that he did not think that the paragraph on market access reflected the Cairns Group position. In his view, “the paragraph was balanced when taken in the context of the paragraph relating to technical assistance for developing countries.”

The topic of agriculture, Rosenthal said, was very much present in all the discussions at the ECOSOC during the week. This topic had been reflected in the declaration, “in a language respectful of ongoing discussions in the Doha round.” The agriculture subsidies given in the developed countries very much affect the capacity of developing countries to compete on a level playing field, he said.

The Council reiterated its support to the priorities of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the call to channel financial, technical and other types of resources towards the NEPAD priorities, in particular infrastructural development, health services, education, water and agriculture.

The ministers and heads of delegation were also committed to responding effectively to Africa’s special needs for achieving sustainable development and to lending full support to the development and implementation of national policies and programmes for rural development in Africa.

The ministers and heads of delegation recognized the special needs of the LDCs and reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of outcomes of the Third UN Conference on LDCs, particularly the elements related to rural development, enhanced market access and provision for enhanced technical assistance and support for capacity building.

Mr Lennart Bage, the head of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), noted some key important achievements at this ECOSOC segment. There was now a renewed interest in rural development from the UN system and member nations, both developing and from the OECD countries. This has started a process of concrete discussion on the various dimensions of rural development, including the land issue, water stress, market access, trade, HIV/AIDS and food security, he said.

He also highlighted the importance of having a system that is to be held into account to review progress of the commitments made here in the next substantive session of the ECOSOC in 2005 as well as a system of monitoring and reporting progress.

Among other things, the ECOSOC also stressed the need to support efforts of commodity-dependent developing countries to diversify their exports as a means of increasing export earnings and improving the terms of trade, given the market fluctuations to which they are vulnerable.

It urged developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards meeting the target of earmarking 0.7% of GNP as official development assistance to developing countries, and recalled that external debt relief can play a role in liberating resources that can then be directed towards activities consistent with attaining sustainable growth and development.

“Food security, rural and agricultural development must be adequately addressed in the context of national development and poverty planning as well as in multilateral and bilateral donor strategies,” the declaration said, committing the Council to the empowerment of rural women at all levels and in all aspects of rural development. (SUNS5377)