Tuesday, May 30, 2006

 

Agreement on Agriculture: What’s the use?

I want to talk a little bit about one of the major reasons African and other developing countries are still battling against poverty: AGRICULTURE. I know a lot has been said about this topic, and I might be repeating what so many scholars, writers, intellectual etc. has said. But the reason for my repetitiveness is the fact that so much has been written and nothing has been done about this problem. Why not add another peace of writing to the pile?

We all know how the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) has faced some difficulties in the past and still at present. And the future is definitely not looking bright. Promises have not been delivered yet. The Doha meeting in 2001 is an example of these promises not being met. The reforms which have been discussed at this round have not yet been as extensive as anticipated.

President Thabo Mbeki once said what is “critical in this regard is access of our products into the food market of the developed countries, some of which continue to subsidise their own agriculture in a context that verges on intellectual, economic and social obscenity and brutal selfishness.

How can developed countries live with themselves when they know how African and other developing countries are battling as is, and yet they still subsidise their local farmers’ products, ignoring the fact that the main source of income in these countries depends on agriculture.

One of the major dilemmas in these countries is developed countries dumping their products on our markets. Obviously this disables out producers to compete with low subsidized prices. This eventually creates a vicious circle. Our domestic markets are destabilised, we start depending more on imports, and this in turn denies us our export opportunities. Developing countries do not have the time and money to be able to address these issues. And another problem, which is self-explanatory and very well-known, is the influence of transnational companies who dominate the world agricultural market due to continuous high tariffs.

Even at the recent Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005, no progress has yet been seen after the agricultural negotiations. There is still the argument by developed nations that they will continue to offer little with regards to better agricultural agreements and they still demand that developing countries open their industrial and service markets to developed nations. Where is the sense in that?

Hopefully one day the WTO will realise the realities of the global agricultural market. The AoA must appreciate that not all nations can comply with the same rules and liberalization policies. Agricultural policies need to be diverse in order to consider each country’s personal needs.

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