[ASC-media] Media statement: un-stalling world trade talks

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Wed Aug 16 02:26:31 CEST 2006

International Association of Agricultural Economists 26th Conference
Gold Coast Convention Centre, Qld, Australia
August 12-18, 2006	   ph 07 5504 4019


August 16, 2006								IAAE 20

In the Wake of Collapsed Trade Talks, World Leaders Need to Move Forward

Two practical proposals could make a difference for the world's poorest countries

by David Orden, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute

Three weeks ago, people throughout the world who followed progress of the WTO talks were stunned by news of their collapse. These negotiations failed because of an appalling lack of leadership on all sides. The U.S. refused to make sufficient reductions in its domestic support for farmers. The E.U., Japan, and other wealthy countries weren't willing to allow enough market access in agriculture. The larger developing countries, such as Brazil and India, wouldn't budge on scaling back protection on manufactured goods.

This failure was a disappointment for Australia and other countries. Being one of the world's most efficient agricultural producers, this country has much to gain from an agreement. But the breakdown was also a huge setback for poor countries dependent on agriculture for food and income. 

Regardless of the political difficulties, the negotiations will have to resume sooner or later, because reducing agricultural protectionism and subsidies is in the interest of most countries - industrialized and developing alike. During the previous trade talks, the Uruguay Round, it took eight years to reach an agreement. So far, we are five years into the current Doha Round, which has a more ambitious agenda. A meaningful agreement that helps poor people is still possible, but it will take time. 

Before the talks collapsed, WTO member countries seemed to be moving towards a relatively unambitious agreement, which would have had little benefit for the world's poorest nations. The delay caused by the cessation could spell failure for the talks, or it could provide the opportunity to develop a more ambitious outcome. Fortunately, two potentially beneficial measures have already been proposed. 

First, it would be important to provide the poorest countries with full, free access to the wealthiest countries' markets, as proposed by the European Union. A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) shows that this measure would provide significant gains for the least developed countries.

Second, nations should reduce the number of "sensitive and special" products, a category that countries have used as a protectionist strategy. The United States proposed reducing the proportion of agricultural products receiving special protection to just one percent. IFPRI research shows this would especially benefit developing countries where agriculture is an important source of employment and export earnings-most notably in middle-income countries. 

While the talks have collapsed for now, it is hopefully not the end of the Doha Development Round. When WTO member countries restart the process of working towards an agreement, we call on them to muster the political courage to deliver on the development pledge made in Doha. At the very least, they should grant poor countries full access to wealthy-country markets and enact the lowest level possible for "sensitive and special" agricultural products. While the complete removal of all industrialized country protectionism on agriculture would be ideal, these two practical proposals would make a big difference

# # #

*David Orden, is a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. He is presening two papers at the International Association of Agricultural Economists conference in Queensland.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations. Please visit our website at www.ifpri.org.

For more information, please contact:
Julian Cribb, 0418 639 245 or 07 5504 4057, email: julian.cribb at work.netspeed.com.au
Michael Rubinstein, +1 202/862.5670, m.rubinstein at cgiar.org

Conference program & details:

More information about the ASC-media mailing list