GENEVA, Switzerland, December 15, 2003 (ENS):
The World Trade Organization appears ready to resume
negotiations after ministerial talks collapsed in Cancun
last September. At a meeting of country delegates in
the WTO General Council today, the organization's two
top officials said it is now time to reactivate negotiating
groups and get the Doha round of talks back on track
early in the new year.
The WTO officials presented agriculture as one of four
key points of negotiation to resume, but 44 civil society
organizations presented the WTO with a letter urging
the organization to stay out of the food and agriculture
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand
and WTO General Council Chairperson Carlos Pérez
del Castillo of Uruguay told delegates that they have
both been engaged in an intensive round of consultations
with member governments, in Geneva and in national capitals.
Their efforts to get the stalled negotiations moving
forward have met with positive responses, both officials
"We had sensed that there was a willingness on
all sides to get back to work in line with the mandate
agreed by ministers at Cancún," Pérez
del Castillo said. "All delegations continued to
support a strong and reinforced multilateral trading
system and expressed willingness to engage and show
the necessary flexibility in order to get the process
back on track."
“We have made progress towards getting the round
back on track, and there is a firm commitment to do
so by all members. However, we are not yet there, he
Panitchpakdi told the delegates, "Reactivating
the negotiating groups and other bodies will not automatically
translate into further progress, unless delegations
engage constructively and show a genuine willingness
to negotiate. Our collective task is indeed to find
that elusive link between political will and concrete
This round of trade liberalization talks is called the
Doha Development Agenda after the November 2001 declaration
of the WTO's Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha,
Qatar, which provides the mandate for negotiations.
Pérez del Castillo told the General Council
today that consultations over the past two months have
explored in turn "each of the four key outstanding
issues, namely agriculture, cotton, non-agricultural
market access and the Singapore issues."
Agriculture, he said, has an "important central
role" but requires "a large amount of work"
to reach agreement. "We are all aware that positive
results on agriculture will have positive implications
in other areas." WTO members agreed to use as a
starting point for reducing tariffs on agricultural
products a draft from Cancun prepared by Ministerial
Chair Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico, commonly called
the Derbez text.
The Derbez text holds that countries the domestic subsidies
that distort agricultural trade the most should be the
focus of the greatest reductions in tariff barriers.
This is a principle supported by the United States,
but opposed by India because it requires steeper reductions
of high tariffs than low tariffs.
But the civil society groups, speaking for rural peasants
and independent family farmers, demanded in their letter
that the WTO remove itself from the agricultural arena
They say that current trade liberalization policies
focus on increasing exports that "satisfy the needs
of corporations and threaten the livelihoods of the
"Trade negotiators think it acceptable to sacrifice
local food production and consumption, and the livelihoods
of millions of farmers, in return for increased access
to international markets for their main exporters,"
says Anuradha Mittal, codirector of Food First/Institute
for Food and Development Policy.
"But social movements around the world claim that
control of world's food supply can not and must not
lie in the hands of an unaccountable, undemocratic and
non-transparent body, such as the World Trade Organization,"
The peasants, family farmers, fisherfolk and their
supporters represented by the 44 groups that signed
the WTO letter propose "People's Food Sovereignty"
as the preferred alternative to the positions taken
by the industrialized and the developing countries.
"Food sovereignty is a commonsense idea that every
one can understand," said George Naylor, president
of the National Family Farm Coalition. "The values
embodied in the traditions of farm communities around
the world - respect for nature, history, families and
neighbors - cannot be measured in dollars or economic
efficiency, and should not be sacrificed for the profits
of multinational grain traders, processors, and retailers."
From his perspective, WTO General Council Chairperson
Pérez del Castillo told delegates today that
the idea of a "common approach" to market
access for both developed and developing countries seems
now to be gaining ground.
The formula would have to incorporate "a clear
differentiation through special and differential treatment,
in order to take care of the development, food security
and/or livelihood security needs of developing countries,"
But this approach, although sensitive to the needs
of developing countries, is not satisfactory to the
civil society groups. "Negotiations in the WTO
... are not concerned with the everyday struggles of
peoples' lives," the groups said in their letter.
"It never seems to occur to these officials that
the liberalization process itself is fundamentally flawed,
working in favor of commerce but against the needs of
families, communities, small businesses and the environment,"
The various southern country groupings have all basically
accepted that negotiations should continue on the basis
of the Derbez text, the civil society groups acknowledge
in their letter, but they point out that this text was
rejected by these same governments at Cancun. They say
the Derbez text is "designed to meet the interests
of those EU/US based corporations that already dominate
global trade in food and agriculture."
Instead, they say, the People's Food Sovereignty approach
would, "control imports and manage supply, to guarantee
stable prices covering the cost of production."
This approach would address the fundamental problem
that farmers everywhere in the world, including in the
U.S. and Europe, face prices below their costs of production.
Instead of joining in one world system that governs
agriculture and food, the civil society groups say,
"Governments should be free to apply measures,
including import quotas, price band systems and import
tariffs, in order to control food imports."
They say, "Stop direct and indirect export subsidies.
Target public subsidies towards peasants, farmers and
fisherfolk, who need them most."
At least on this point Pérez del Castillo agrees.
"I have stated it before and I repeat it today,"
he told the General Council delegates, "that I
feel this commitment to the elimination of all forms
of export subsidies is a must for these negotiations
to be successful, although I am aware of the difficulties
that some members may have at present to make definitive
commitments to that effect."
The 44 groups jointly are asking national governments
to "protect domestic food production and distribution,
and to claim the right to apply these measures as a
fundamental human right that cannot be traded off against
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