The multilateral trade, or Doha Round, negotiations that have been underway for over four years are finally coming to an end. They will probably come to a close within the next twelve months, because "public opinion" would like to see some form of conclusion, and because after this period the United States will no longer have a mandate, and the hope of finally rounding off the negotiations is weighing on all the negotiators.
However, the agricultural sector has been the object of many heated debates, and is central to these discussions, as has always been the case since the beginning of the GATT; the proposed or draft solutions seem, in all objectivity, to only partially regulate the world trade problems over food and agri-food products confronting the WTO members, particularly the Developing Countries.
Two facts need to be recalled at this point :
› The present Multilateral Trade Negotiations have been undertaken in order to resolve the trade problems encountered by the Developing Countries, particularly in the agricultural sector, which were not addressed in the prior negotiations, neither at the Tokyo Round nor the Uruguay Round. This is why the Ministers are speaking at Doha – so that the round of negotiations can concentrate on the theme of "Development».
› In signing the Marrakech Agreement instituting the World Trade Organisation, the Ministers have solemnly concluded in its prelude that: "their reports on the trade and economic fields need to be directed at improving living standards, the creation of full employment and good standards of living that always increase in line with real income, and effective demand and growth in production and trade in commodities and services, whilst allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in conformity with the objectives of sustainable development, with a view to both protecting and preserving the environment, and ensuring that this is achieved in ways that are compatible with their respective needs and concerns on all levels »
It must be said, objectively speaking, that the gap between the results achieved by the negotiators and their intended objectives is extremely wide, if not contrary to, on the one hand, the commitments made at Doha over the Developing Countries, and on the other hand, the objectives and principles of the WTO.
› How will the Developing Countries benefit from the trade negotiations ?
The Agricultural Agreement that resulted from the Uruguay Round, negotiated between the United States and the European Union, did not really concern the Developing Countries (the green box agricultural policy tools which are inaccessible for budgetary reasons, the impossibility of application of the safety clauses, maintenance of export support in the Developing Countries…). The current agreement is being developed on the same basis. The liberal approach drafted for the Doha Round is therefore, really a decoy for the Developing Countries. The World Bank itself, after initially publishing fantastical figures about the effects of the liberalization of exchange in developed countries, then reduced these calculations to a third of their previous value, the results for the Less Advantaged Countries being close to zero on average (read negative for a good number of them, many of which are States on the African Continent).
Moreover, many of these countries, even if they export some agricultural products, come up against all sorts of barriers, both tariff and non-tariff related in Developed and Developing Countries – it must be stated that the European Union is the only member of the WTO to have opened its import market to all of the Less Advantaged Countries, since the beginning of 21st century, through the initiative "Everything But Arms" (with the provisional exception of three products) – or these countries must face the unfair competition of the other exporting countries (Developed or Developing) on the world market (New-Zealand, Australian, or Canadian boards, Brazilian subsidies or credit, US marketing loans, EEC export refunds…).
The reduction of import tariffs agreed by the Developed Countries has led to the reduction of preferential tariffs for the Developing Countries, putting a halt to, or even halting outright, the economic and social "take off" for these countries and denying them a place in the markets.
Lastly, the negotiators have filed away the fine commitments of the Ministers and the Director General of the WTO in the "Decision Concerning the Measures on the Possible Negative Impact of the Reform Programme for the Less Advantaged Countries and the Developing Countries that are Net Importers of Food Products»
› The inappropriateness of the current negotiations with the Objectives and Principles of the WTO.
The dismantling of agricultural policies that we are witnessing through the commitments that we have already made, or are likely to make, in the three key sectors of the negotiations, i.e. internal support, export competition, and access to the import markets, which is imposed in an almost "terrorist" fashion, almost demagogically by a limited number of Member countries, does not answer the WTO's General Objectives as adopted by the Ministers in Marrakech (already mentioned above). It hardly needs to be demonstrated.
This dismantling of agricultural policies does not even correspond to the Prelude to the Agricultural Agreement concluded in Marrakech – whose terms are excessive and in direct contradiction with the GATT and WTO's written Objectives - where it is written that "the long-term objective [which is to establish an equitable and market-based trade system for agricultural products] is to progressively and substantially reduce support and agricultural protection, through a monitored process over a predefined period of time, which would enable the restrictions and distortions on the world markets to be remedied and to prevent their occurrence ».
As can be seen, it is not a question of the elimination or suppression of such and such mechanism of agricultural policy. It is really only a question of reduction that will enable the "the restrictions and distortions on the world markets to be remedied". This is an entirely different matter from systematic dismantling.
The dismantling of agricultural policies, however, – and it remains to be proved – would be an answer to one of greater liberalization of the markets, or to be more exact that defined by its advocates; would this liberalization enable the World – all the members of the WTO and not only some – to experience "the improvement of living standards, the creation of full employment and good standards of living that always increase in line with real income, effective demand and growth in production and trade in commodities and services, whilst allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in conformity with the objectives of sustainable development" all objectives that the Ministers have been targeting by promoting the World Trade Organisation ?
The current Multilateral Trade Negotiations, undertaken by certain countries, are therefore truncated.
What the World needs today, in agricultural terms, is an organisation of the world's markets, based on internal agricultural policies, whose objectives are to promote environmental protection, ensure the producers permanent employment and a decent income, and give consumers a regular supply of food commodities along with price stability, and access to products with all the sanitary guarantees.
The WTO Agricultural Agreement can no longer serve as a reference or as a model for actions or measures. We need to stop using general methods and rules, and return to negotiations over specific commitments, as was the case under the GATT and as is still the case with Services. Why, when it's a question of access, for example, cannot the same negotiation methods for Services be applied to Agriculture ?