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Rethink Time on Agriculture and Hunger, says Oxfam

Rethink Time on Agriculture and Hunger, says Oxfam

Jim Sutton, Minister for Trade Negotiations, is currently chairing a major meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). But, as chair, he is sending out the wrong message.

Thursday’s [27 November] statement from the Minister’s office about the meeting raises serious concerns, says Barry Coates, Executive Director of international development agency Oxfam New Zealand. “The Minister has simply repeated what New Zealand, Australia and other rich countries said at the failed WTO Ministerial in Cancun, namely that poor countries should open their markets to agricultural imports ‘for their own good’, despite evidence from the FAO that this is contributing to worsening hunger in some countries.” In a report just released, the FAO cites examples of the problems that arise when countries are required to liberalise without properly regulated markets, rural credit, adequate transport or other infrastructure.

The discussions at the FAO are a crucial opportunity to find a way to kick-start the deadlocked negotiations on agriculture that have stalled progress in the WTO. “For the first time in 48 years, NZ is chair at the FAO. I urge Minister Sutton to use the role to take another look at what developing countries are saying about their need to control the pace and extent of reforms in their agriculture sectors” says Coates. “Adequately addressing the issue of special and differential treatment for poor countries is the key to moving forward on the Doha Development Agenda and there is now a golden opportunity to do just that, in our own interests and those of most countries in the world. Once developing countries are satisfied that their concerns over basic issues such as food security are met, the heat can go back on where it belongs, on the EU and the US as the world’s subsidy superpowers.


Background: In the WTO negotiations on agriculture, the EU, the US, Japan and others are resisting opening their markets and reducing their massive subsidy regimes. An example often used by Oxfam and referred to in the FAO report are the US subsidies to its 25,000 cotton farmers, of USD3.9bn per year, which have caused world prices to collapse and 10 million West African cotton farmers – the most efficient in the world – to be unable to sell their cotton. Current proposals at the WTO by the EU/US look like ambitious reforms, but are designed so that rich countries can continue with their subsidy regimes largely intact, while at the same time forcing open the markets of developing countries. An example of the special and differential treatment proposed by developing countries is the detailed draft put up by a group of over 40 developing and least developed countries, which includes proposals for special products and a special safeguard mechanism for products of particular importance to developing countries There is a meeting of the General Council of the WTO currently scheduled for 15 December

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