Ladies and gentlemen
Before I make my welcoming statement, I would like to express my deepest sorrow on the terrible loss of life in Asia as a result of the natural disaster caused by Tsunami on 26th December 2004.
The state of the ongoing WTO agricultural negotiations
As you all know, multilateral trade negotiations have been attracting a great deal of attention for some years. The process of re-negotiating the WTO Agreement on Agriculture started with the launch of a new round of trade negotiations by the WTO Doha Ministerial Conference in November 2001. The Conference set a number of deadlines for various stages of the negotiations. Subsequent developments in the negotiations, however, remained disappointing as several deadlines were missed, including the setback at the WTO 5th Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003.
However, the conclusion of the August Framework Agreement at the end of July 2004 has ushered positive signs to the otherwise difficult Round. At this stage, the Framework remains a framework, and many fundamental issues and details are yet to be resolved through negotiations. A successful outcome that is supportive of development, in particular agricultural development and the attainment of food security for all, is of vital importance for most countries, notably most developing countries for whom agriculture plays a critical role.
Liberalization of world agricultural trade and the Doha process
The question that is often asked in fora like this – is trade liberalization a solution to hunger, which, as we all are aware, is a continuing issue of concern in Asia. The region still accounts for 64 percent of the world’s undernourished and ill-fed.
The answer to the question is conditionally yes, because trade liberalization alone will not solve the hunger problem facing these countries. Trade reforms are essential in order to create a conducive environment, as well as opportunities for these countries. Therefore, given the severity of the problem and the need to achieve the MDGs, all efforts need to be made to ensure that trade liberalization contributes to improving agricultural productivity, production and incomes in food insecure countries.
It is in this context that the conclusion of the WTO August Framework Agreement is a positive development for food security. First, it commits to substantially reducing distortions in world agricultural markets. And second, it states that the eventual Trade Agreement should allow countries to pursue agricultural policies that are supportive of their development goals, poverty reduction strategies, food security and livelihood concerns.
FAO’s role in assisting Members in trade negotiations
The task of converting the WTO Framework Agreement to modalities – which is the agenda currently - and finally to an Agreement is going to be complex and difficult. The stakes are too high in not doing so. I am an optimist – the process may take longer than anticipated, but it will happen.
What is important, however, is to strike an Agreement that is:
- pro-agricultural development
- pro-food security and so
- pro-developing countries.
This does not happen automatically, but must be engineered.
It is here where FAO and other development organizations have a vital role to play at this juncture of time. FAO does not negotiate but can provide valuable information and analysis to facilitate such negotiations. Moreover, we have a mandate from the World Food Summit to provide technical assistance to the developing countries so that they are equal partners in the negotiations.
And we have been doing this for several years now, especially since 1995 when the Uruguay Round was concluded.
I am sure that many of you are aware of our activities in this area, similar to this one. During 1999-2001, FAO implemented an “Umbrella” Programme on trade-related capacity building, with a focus on strengthening the participation of developing and transition countries in multilateral trade negotiations. Fourteen sub-regional workshops were organized under the programme and reached a total of 850 officials from 151 countries. In addition, substantive reference materials were developed and disseminated.
In this region itself, FAO organized two sub-regional workshops in Asia in 2000, under the Umbrella Programme, in Kathmandu and in Los Banos, Philippines. These were followed up by a regional workshop held here in Bangkok in November 2002. It brought together 40 participants from 18 countries of the region – mostly trade negotiators and members of the technical teams supporting the negotiations.
FAO continues to receive requests from countries of the region for capacity building activities, as new developments take place in the WTO agricultural negotiations.
Two years later after the 2002 seminar, negotiations are still underway, albeit in a different phase and requiring different types of analysis and discussion. Right now, there is a Framework Agreement that has to be developed into actual modalities that determine the bone and flesh of the new agricultural agreement. This, very critical, “modalities” phase will require intense analyses and reflection.
This is the rationale for this workshop today. It is the third of the six similar regional workshops that FAO has been implementing since November 2004. I am sure that there will be many similar activities in the coming months as trade negotiations intensify.
Expectations from this Workshop
Ladies and gentlemen
Finally, what should you expect from this workshop? In my view, the goals are very clear, given the timing of the negotiations, which are in a very important phase where countries will need to address complex technical details and numerical parameters, converting the Framework Agreement to the Modalities.
I am confident that you will achieve the goals before you.
In closing, I would like to remind you once again about what I said earlier – that we must not lose the war on hunger and we need to do more to enhance the rate at which hunger and poverty is declining in Asia in order to meet the MDGs. Trade liberalization has potentials to contribute immensely to that process – but any change in rules that comes from multilateral negotiations has to be supportive of that process. This I hope you will keep in mind as you deliberate on specific trade policy instruments and rules.
I wish you all the success in this task.
I thank you for your kind attention.