Slow progress in trade talks not enough for world's poorest farmers

Published: 1 November 2005

Progress on agricultural reform at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in China does not go far enough to guarantee an outcome that will benefit developing countries, said international agency Oxfam today.

Progress on agricultural reform at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in China does not go far enough to guarantee an outcome that will benefit developing countries, said international agency Oxfam today.

Oxfam welcomed reports that members had moved closer to a deal on market access, but said that rich countries needed to demonstrate a much greater willingness to work with other members to get consensus rather than defending their own short term self interest.

"Every inch of movement involves a protracted a battle. As a result, negotiations are way off track," said Celine Charveriat, Head of Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair Campaign. "The Ministerial in Hong Kong is only 6 months away. At this rate members will not even have agreed upon a seating plan, let alone a framework for meaningful agricultural reform that helps alleviate poverty."

Negotiators have been discussing a formula that will determine by how much countries have to cut import tariffs on farm goods. Last night it seemed that members had agreed to work on a proposal tabled by the Group of 20 developing countries led by India and Brazil. However, both the US and EU have stopped short of fully endorsing the G20 proposal, leaving themselves room to maneuver.

Charveriat: "It is good to see developing countries taking a lead in these talks. They are demonstrating a 'can-do' attitude that we need to see more of. Rich countries should learn by example and change their stance from defensive and intractable to proactive and cooperative."

Oxfam emphasized that any deal on market access should guarantee developing countries 'special and differential treatment.' They should not have to cut tariffs if this threatens their ability to protect fledgling sectors and guarantee food security, and they should be able to use other trade policy instruments to promote development.

As well as a market access formula, negotiators need to agree on cuts to agricultural export subsidies and domestic support. Oxfam is calling for an immediate end to dumping and an end-date for export subsidies of 2010 at the latest. The US should introduce clearer disciplines on food aid and agree to reductions in domestic subsidies. None of this should be conditional on action from developing countries.

Charveriat: "Developing countries must not be made to pay for apparent concessions on agriculture with reciprocal movement on non-agricultural market access. This is meant to be a development round, not one that is defined by a process of tit-for-tat."

Contact Information

For more information:
Amy Barry, Oxford, 44 (0)1865 312254
Pheonix Leung, China, 86 1352 130 1203