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65 - international negotiations
The agricultural exception
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Agriculture at the WTO:
let’s change the debate!
editorial by Bénédicte Hermelin and Jean-Pierre Rolland, Solagral.

ll economists - even the most liberal - recognise the specific features of agriculture. The rigidity of supply and demand for agricultural products causes strong market instability. Thus, imagining that a farmer can respond precisely to market signals means forgetting the length of production cycles, the central role of the climatic factor and the scale of investments. Likewise, as consumers have appetites of significant but limited size they cannot indefinitely increase or reduce their food intake, however much prices vary. Furthermore, agricultural production is related to a territory that it models, occupies and develops. Only soilless production of crops or animals overcomes this constraint, but is this still agriculture?

All countries - whatever their more or less liberal negotiating positions - should take these features into account. Although Europe recognises them openly to justify its agricultural policy, the United States spends thousands of millions of dollars on correcting a marked agricultural slump, showing that it cannot do without its farmers entirely. And then there are the environmental problems faced by all the countries that have opted for very intensive, specialised agriculture (New Zealand, Argentina, the United States and the Netherlands to mention only a few). Finally, food security is a fundamental issue faced to a more or less acute extent by all countries, from Japan to Burkina Faso by way of Brazil.

Agriculture is a 'specifically' important sector for the developing countries, as it concerns a majority of the population, helps to fight poverty and because food insecurity is not a vain expression. Furthermore, these countries are less well endowed with factors of production than the developed countries.

Although all these reasons form justification for the adoption of agricultural support policies, the latter should nevertheless not hinder international trade. Now, it is seen that aid from developed countries, mainly Europe and the United States, has contributed to a fall in world prices and the impoverishment of southern farmers. The WTO Agreement on Agriculture was precisely aimed at injecting more discipline into agricultural trade and policies.

But this did not happen. The agreement legitimises more or less hidden dumping, authorises costly support available only to the rich countries and removes any possibility of domestic market protection and regulation for developing countries. It thus sets face to face heavily subsidised, extremely productive agricultures and less well endowed agricultures with no support at all. Today, the negotiations are focused mainly on the further degree of liberalisation to be implemented and on the type of agricultural support that is acceptable, since it is assumed not to have a negative effect on trade. Staying within these discussions means making a mistake with regard to the issue. The central question must be the type of agriculture that responds to citizens' expectations in all the countries of the world and be beyond the question of north-south confrontation.

Europe defends the idea that agriculture should not depend on market laws alone and can therefore change the terms of the debate. On condition that it removes the ambiguities from its agricultural policy, thus giving a strong signal to its partners and to the developing countries in particular.

context
Trading illusions
Dani Rodrik
Harvard University.

For a fair framework interview with Henri-Bernard Solignac Lecomte
OECD Development Center.

Toeing the
liberal line

Yannick Jadot Solagral

Disagreement
on agriculture

Peter Einarson Consultant.

Trading in food insecurity
Devinder Sharma, Consultant. Stakeholders

A divided front interview with Aileen Kwa
Focus on the Global South

A regional plea
Ndiobo Diène
Jean-René Cuzon Senegalese Ministry for Agriculture and Stock Breeding, Magatte Ndoye
Senegalese Ministry for Small Enterprises and Trade.

A heavyweight in the ring
Karine Tavernier Damien Conaré
Solagral.

All-out liberalisation
interview with
Guillermo Hillcoat
Université Paris-I.

The home
lobby

Laurent
Develay

Adviser with the Greens group at the European Parliament.

Awaiting reform, David Orden,
Virginia Tech. Exceptions

 

 

The great European
clean-up,

interview with
Louis-Pascal
Mahé

Ecole nationale supérieure agronomique
de Rennes.

Let's change
multi-
functionality
Tristan
Le Cotty

and
Anthony
Aumand

INRA
Tancrède
Voituriez

CIRAD.

Cultural exception
Tohiko
Korenaga

Utsunomiya University.

The results of discussions
Anne Bernard
Solagral.

Fighting
hunger

Marie-Cécile
Thirion
Solagral
Tancrède
Voituriez
CIRAD.

A moral imperative
Ramesh Sharma
FAO.

Not such special treatment
Shishir Priyadarsh,
South Centre.

Keys
A brief history
of international agricultural trade

The situation in agricultural trade

Agriculture at
the WTO.

The geopolitics
of multifunctional agriculture.

       
AIDA - Le Courrier de la planète -Domaine de Lavalette - 1037 rue Jean-François Breton - 34090 Montpellier Cedex- France- cdp@courrierdelaplanete.org
Dernière mise à jour Thursday 22 December, 2005