In the aftermath of the Hong Kong ministerial conference, what is your outlook concerning the work sessions of the WTO that will take place just a few days before the April deadlines and in preparation for the end of July ?
From my point of view, the WTO conference in Hong Kong was an important step. The main outcome is the commitment of the developed and developing countries to offer better market access for the products of the less developed countries (LDC) just as the European Union has been doing since 2001 with our “Everything but arms” initiative. But at the same time, the European Union has made a step forward in agriculture by conditionally accepting the abolition of all export subsidies by the end of 2013 without furthering its interests in industrial products and services. That is why we hope that the impending meetings will restore a real balance to the negotiations with a real readiness on the part of the United States and the major developing countries like Brazil and India to open their markets to manufactured goods and services. The dates don’t really matter, but there can’t be an unbalanced agreement.
How can the liberalization of international trade benefit all countries and notably the least advanced ?
First, I’d like to point out that the latest economic studies, including those of the World Bank, have reduced the estimated gains in well-being that can be expected at the outcome of this round of negotiations. This is because the previous studies all too often neglected fundamental points: the cost of restructuring, the erosion of preferential tariffs that benefit the developing countries today, a higher risk of price fluctuations for raw materials and an increase in imported food prices. The poorest countries must obtain access to the markets of the developing countries (South-South trade represents 40% of LDC exports) in order to really benefit from the current round and compensate for the erosion of their preferential status. You are aware that we must bear in mind that market access will first benefit the large agricultural exporting countries that are the most competitive and not the least advanced countries where the production cycle is disorganized, even if labor costs are particularly low. There are also specific constraints linked to subsistence agriculture in the poorest countries where the channels of distribution are easily disrupted, which can put whole villages at risk. Support for development must help these countries strengthen their capacity to export and reduce the costs of restructuring and also finance the implementation of supporting policies in areas such as education, infrastructure development and the setting up of social safety nets of security.
What do you think of the WOAgri initiative ?
It’s an interesting initiative that brings new ideas and stimulates debate on questions that are as fundamental as the role of agriculture in developing the economies of the poor countries or the specific characteristics of agricultural markets, which have an important social dimension.
A renovation of our analytical processes is necessary in order to identify the political actions that will allow us to deal with the modern issues of agriculture in the 21st century, such as security of supply, feeding a growing world population, food safety, urbanism and the environment.
WOAgri will help, I hope, to illustrate that the multifunctional conception of agriculture is not a European exception but is potentially universal. Indeed, a world governance of agriculture can not be developed without being based on the multifunctionality of agriculture. Of course, this initiative does not only concern farmers and should be seen as a contribution to the modernization of the European agricultural model.