in promoting a regulatory system of agricultural exchanges that allows for both liberalization and development.
Within the WTO, there is a tendency to think that agricultural negotiations are confined to the problems between Europe and the United States, but although development policies are the main objective of the Doha round, no significant headway in favour of developing countries has been made for four years, except for the European Union’s commercial policy entitled “everything but arms”.
This is why a WOAgri delegation went to Senegal and Benin for the week of the 2nd to the 6th of May to meet the president of Benin, Yayi Boni and the Ministers of Agriculture and Trade of the two countries as well as the leaders of several professional agricultural organizations.
The talks were marked by a common point of view and the determination to work together to set up international regulations for agricultural markets that ensure the development of poor countries while preserving agriculture in the other countries of the world.
The objective is a form of world governance whose priority would be to organize international markets according to a target price ensuring a minimum remuneration for farmers which is the only way to guarantee in the long term agricultural production capable of satisfying everyone’s needs.
The classic example, which was presented to us each time, is cotton. African producers are forced to sell at a loss because the price on international markets is very low. Therefore they can no longer borrow money, except at usurious rates of 15 to 20%...and cotton production has dropped: in Benin production fell by half in 2005, even though it is one of the rare export crops and a major source of hard currency!
And meanwhile, the United States is pretending to make a concession by abolishing its export subsidies (which are minimal) but continuing to maintain internal support (marketing loans and counter-cyclical payments) that provides American cotton producers with a guaranteed price equivalent to twice the international market price!
It is in this context that our talks in Dakar and Cotonou have shown to what extent WOAgri’s approach is both new and necessary:
> New, because we propose a method, the use of tools adapted to the agricultural sector, that takes into account the interactions between agriculture, the other sectors of the economy, the environment, the level of development, health issues…
Consequently the construction of the NAR economic model (New Agricultural Regulations) and the creation of a rating agency for agricultural policies, modeled after financial rating agencies, have generated a great deal of interest among our African audiences. Everyone, whether farmer, entrepreneur, minister or president, immediately understood the coherence, the efficiency and the novelty of this approach.
> Necessary, because WOAgri is considered a project that is structured and realistic and fills a void. Many Africans no longer believe in the WTO or the IMF and even less in the World Bank. It is necessary to restore credibility to these institutions by allowing them to play their role fully within a regulatory framework that reconciles both liberalization and development.
Yayi Boni, the new president of Benin, assured us not only of his support but also of his will to work with us to create solutions that everyone in his country has been waiting for.
The Ministers of Trade and Agriculture of Senegal encouraged us to explain, rapidly and to as many people as possible, this vital work to change the international mindset.
We visited various farms, one of which was a small cooperative producing pineapples, in Alada, about one hundred kilometres north of Cotonou, where we were struck by the farmers’ skills and their total lack of illusions concerning the policies of both large industrial countries and developing countries within the Doha negotiations. We were told in no uncertain terms that they believe the constraints of the World Bank and the IMF will inevitably lead their agriculture to ruin!
It goes without saying that the leaders of these two countries perceive the WTO negotiations as a series of debates that no longer concern them. And it would come as no surprise if the West African countries abstained from signing any agreement reached between Europe, the United States, Brazil and the other countries because they feel not only that they have been tricked but that they have also been abandoned!
Everyone recognises that negotiations are at a standstill, and if they do succeed, there will be only an insignificant agreement that the WTO will present as an undreamed of agreement in which the European Union will have made gratuitous unilateral concessions, at the expense of its agriculture and agri-food industry, but whose new rules will create no hope for the less developed countries.
In fact, fundamental problems will not be dealt with, because the WTO has far exceeded its competence levels in matters of agriculture. How can one set of international regulations be made for all sectors: services, industry and agriculture without taking into account the specificities of each major sector of activity?
Using a commercial approach to address agricultural challenges (less than 10% of world production) is an illusion
> It ignores the unpredictability of food production, which discourages farmers,
> It therefore intensifies food insecurity for the poorest populations and destabilises agriculture worldwide even more.
> It fails to recognise the induced costs linked to this destabilisation: the formation of megalopoles where the poor are crowded together with the resulting consequences of public health, the breakdown of family relations, delinquency, immigration etc…
WOAgri, which received encouragement for its action throughout the trip, proposes therefore that, within the Doha round, the priorities be reversed. Let us move forward on services and industry, where no progress has been made so far, and call a moratorium on agricultural negotiations.
We should make good use of this moratorium to come to an agreement on objectives and means so that the proposed solutions lead to a real improvement in living and working standards, as stipulated in the preamble of the Marrakech agreement establishing the WTO.
We could also, based on the first results of the NAR model (supported by the opinion of the simulation and grading agency for agricultural policies), provide a concrete contribution to solving this enormous problem.
Chairman of WoAgri