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G33 Insist on Unambiguous Outcomes at MC11 on Food Security

The article below was published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #8452,
28 April 2017.

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G33 insist on unambiguous outcomes at MC11 on food security
Published in SUNS #8452 dated 28 April 2017

Geneva, 27 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Developing countries with hundreds of millions of resource poor and livelihood farmers face a do-or-die battle, ahead of the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, to secure a permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and a simple and effective special safeguard mechanism, trade envoys told SUNS.

Perhaps, Buenos Aires is the only chance for the G-33 group of developing countries and least-developed countries to secure unambiguous outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, the special safeguard mechanism, and other developmental issues, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

This is more so, at a time "when the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo and a group of developing countries led by Brazil and Argentina are making a concerted effort to shift the focus of the eleventh ministerial meeting to "e-commerce" and "investment facilitation" among others, instead of securing the "developmental" outcomes as set out in the Doha Work Program," the envoy said.

"The Buenos Aires meeting is being prepared as a venue for launching the so-called 21st century issues, such as e-commerce and investment facilitation, by the two countries - Brazil and Argentina - which had till now insisted that agriculture and other unresolved developmental issues of the global trading system of the 20th century must remain at the center," the envoy said.

The director-general - who has been all over the place with Alibaba Group's chairman Jack Ma extolling gains from e-commerce - is queering the pitch for both e-commerce and investment facilitation, as though it is a WTO Secretariat-driven process, the envoy suggested.

In the face of such an unprecedented effort by the WTO Secretariat under the leadership of Azevedo and neo-liberal governments in Brazil and Argentina, the G-33 not only faces an uphill battle but, in all probability, could well be asked to make a heavy payment even for securing less-than-credible outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and the special safeguard mechanism, the envoy maintained.

Against this backdrop, the G-33 Group's submission "Reaffirming Development - MC 11" circulated on 25 April assumes importance.

On behalf of the Group of 33 (G-33), Indonesia renewed the "longstanding calls for global trade reforms that address inequities and imbalances in the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) so that all WTO Members would be governed by a multilateral trading system (MTS) under the WTO which is not only open, transparent, and market-oriented but also, more importantly, development-oriented, fair and provides a level playing field."

The G-33 pointed out that "developed Members have expansive flexibilities in the AoA, which make their farmers and exporters artificially competitive. These flexibilities include, amongst others, high AMS entitlements with no product specific caps on AMS; very high levels of total per capita domestic support; non-transparent and complex tariff-rate quota (TRQ) and non-ad valorem tariff systems including tariff peaks and escalation; and highest entitlements to the special safeguard provisions (SSG), among others."

It is well-established by several studies that the Uruguay Round was a sweet-heart deal between the then two major subsidisers - the United States and the European Union, which was poetically concluded at Blair House in Washington in 1990.

Attempts to address the "inequities" arising from the Uruguay Round were started by Brazil which created the G-20 group of developing countries in 2003.

On the eve of that meeting, the US had reversed course, from its long-standing focus against EU agricultural policies, joined hands with the EU to accommodate each other's policies and mount a joint assault on the agricultural markets of developing countries. In response to this, Brazil had then reached out to India and China to form the G-20, much to the chagrin of the EU which had denounced the move at the WTO.

But the G-20 is now dead for all practical purposes and is hardly interested in addressing the inequities at this juncture, in the face of opposition from the US and the EU.

Further, agricultural tariffs in the developing countries "have not been able to match these wide-ranging flexibilities causing periodic import surges and almost permanent market distortions in agriculture trade to the disadvantage of developing Members where agriculture is characterized by small subsistence farming and market failure," the G-33 argued.

Despite the Marrakesh Treaty's built-in agenda of continuing the reform process in agriculture, and which was exhaustively negotiated and clarified in the Doha Work Program as well as the revised draft negotiating modalities of December 2008, attempts are now being made to kill those developmental commitments, once and for all.

In the face of these developments, the developing countries can only achieve a "development-oriented" outcome if they remain solidly united to ensure that "the negotiations must continue towards and after the 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) at Buenos Aires, building on the various Ministerial decisions/declarations and the development framework we have agreed to date since 2001."

The G-33 maintained that it is ready to "engage constructively and contribute to a credible and balanced outcome, which withstands the test of development at MC11 at Buenos Aires and beyond".

It maintained that "as part of the balancing and S&DT instruments, the G-33 has long been calling for meaningful Special Products (SP), an accessible and effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and a permanent solution on Public Stock Holding (PSH) for food security purposes."

Further, "these tools," the G-33 argued forcefully, "are needed for sustaining investments in agriculture for food security, livelihood security and rural development, as well as addressing the destabilizing and crippling effects of import surges and downward price swings in the increasingly volatile global agricultural markets largely due to huge subsidies in productions and exports by the developed Members."

It said "there should be a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes and a Special Safeguard Mechanism for developing Members as mandated. There is a clear mandate to arrive and adopt a permanent solution on Public Stock Holding (PSH) for food security purposes by 2017."

"The Nairobi Ministerial Decision on SSM for developing Members has reinforced and strengthened the mandate in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration to establish both price and volume-based SSM," the G-33 maintained.

Indonesia urged the members to "constructively and meaningfully engage on the two most important issues of SSM and PSH with a view to deliver them in MC11 so that developing Members are equipped with these tools to counterbalance some of the inequities built into the WTO rules in favour of the developed Members."

This can only happen if the developing countries remain united in thwarting the "stonewalling" and "diversionary" tactics adopted by the US and the EU, aided by the director-general, and Brazil, said several envoys who participated in the Nairobi ministerial meeting.

The recent appointment of the chair for Doha agriculture negotiating body in which the director-general played a major role has only revived the memories of the manner in which the Nairobi outcomes were finalized, said several African and Asian envoys who asked not to be quoted.

The newly appointed chair for the Doha agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Stephen Karau from Kenya, said on 26 April, that he is capable of overseeing the negotiations given his role in overseeing the discussions on finalizing the Nairobi ministerial declaration in 2015.

Unless the G-33 wages a do-or-die battle to secure its two goals at Buenos Aires, the writing on the wall is anything but encouraging, several trade envoys said. +