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Forthright discussion between NGOs and WTO members

Forthright discussion between NGOs and WTO members

Farmers in developing countries should have the right to derive a sustainable livelihood from their efforts without rich countries wrecking their markets, New Zealand Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said.

Mr Sutton told a meeting with non-governmental organisation representatives and 25 World Trade Organisation ministers in Sydney yesterday that there was an emerging consensus on agriculture.

“NGOs and governments are to a large extent now agreeing on the principal elements such as the right of farmers in least developed countries to derive a livelihood from their agricultural efforts, the right to be protected from having their markets destroyed by dumping of subsidised surpluses from industrialised countries. And developing countries should enjoy special and differential treatment in order to promote development.”

Mr Sutton said the debate between the protagonists of multifunctionality in agriculture and those arguing for the elimination of trade-distorting subsidies was really just an argument about the best way to the same outcome.

“Most countries seek to strengthen rural communities, to protect environmental and social values of their rural regions. The argument is about whether it is appropriate or necessary to subsidise agriculture to pursue these objectives or whether they can be addressed directly without distorting trade and disrupting development in other countries.”

Mr Sutton said today’s meeting of 25 WTO members did not have the right to, and neither would it presume to, make a decision on behalf of all 144 members, but it hoped to advance consensus on some key issues to a state where there could be rapid progress at general council next month.

“I am very hopeful that, with the work that has already been done and the ideas discussed informally amongst ministers here, we can meet the Doha deadline for agreement on TRIPS and public health.”

Mr Sutton said yesterday’s meeting with NGO representatives was a forthright one.

“We have a level of agreement. Some of the NGOs were pushing the envelope towards more ambitious objectives, which is an entirely legitimate role for them.”

He said some ministers had observed, and it was not disputed by the NGO representatives at the meeting, that some NGO groups which did not attend the meeting had different views. There was still division in the NGO community.

“One developing country minister said that NGOs from developed countries might wish to take it upon themselves to build capacity in NGOs in developing countries who would love to participate but don’t have the capacity to do so.”

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