Developing Nations Say Any WTO Trade Deal Must Protect Poor Farmers

As trade talks continue in Hong Kong for a second day, delegates from the G-20 group of developing nations have reiterated calls for major cuts in agricultural trade barriers.  Developing nations say a trade deal should not come at expense of hundreds of millions of poor farmers.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Wednesday that the multilateral trading system has so far created a "development deficit."  He says the agricultural protection practices of the developed nations are to blame.

"Poor countries cannot wait for another 20 years to see true reforms in agriculture trade. The time to act is now. All forms of distorting subsidies have to be eliminated or drastically reduced," he said.

Brazil has been spearheading efforts by the so-called G-20 group of developing nations to put an end to large agricultural subsidies. The G-20 nations argue that these subsidies make agricultural products from the developed nations artificially cheap, in turn making those from the developing nations uncompetitive.
Agriculture subsidies are the major stumbling block in the World Trade Organization talks this week in Hong Kong.  The European Union, which has the most heavily subsidized agricultural sector, is refusing to make further cuts unless the developing nations open up their markets to foreign industrial goods and services.

Brazil's Mr. Amorim says developing countries see the problem in a different way. 

"The major economies cannot expect more concessions from developing countries than they are willing themselves to offer…It just won't happen," he said.

Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath put the dispute in stark number terms.

"In developing countries including India, hundreds of millions of low-income and subsistence farmers eke out a precarious livelihood from agriculture," Mr. Nath said. " Unless the playing field is completely leveled, they cannot enter the arena of international competition…The ambitions of developed countries cannot and must not trample on the aspirations of four-fifths of humanity."

The G-20 has emerged as a powerful negotiating bloc in the WTO. Its members include two of the world's fastest growing economies - India and China - and other Asian, Latin American and African nations, most of them with largely agriculture-based economies.

Despite the talks impasse, Mr. Amorim says the G-20 is committed to reaching an agreement on methods of cutting agricultural protection by April of next year.

The talks in Hong Kong end Sunday.

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