Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Asian developing nations backed by Australia, demand level playing field in agricultural trade

11 Jun 2002 -- Rome – Accusing rich nations of practising double standards, Asian nations have urged world leaders at a UN food security summit here to help create a level playing field so that developing countries can also take advantage of global trade liberalisation.

Leaders of prominent Asian trading nations have told the 10 to 13 June 2002 World Food Summit: five years later (WFS: fyl) convened by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that with international trade increasingly becoming the main engine for economic growth, developing countries should be given a fair chance to gain from this.

Following a similar complaint by the President of Sri Lanka before the gathering of more than 180 nations, senior government leaders from Philippines and Thailand said that the World Trade Organization (WTO) should not operate as an organization of rich nations alone. They were backed by Australia, which asserted that the “massive assistance” to agriculture in developed nations “undermine the agricultural advancement and poverty reduction objectives of many developing countries.”

In his statement to the summit today, the Vice-President of Philippines, Teofisto Guingona exhorted the gathering: “We are poor and you are rich – level the playing field! Recognise special and differential treatment! Do not impose subsidies for exports. Do not dump products that kill our farmers and fisherfolk. Do not, in the name of free trade, deny us time to integrate our resources, and having integrated them, deny us access to your rich markets. Let us in, in the name of globalisation, fight hunger, fight poverty together through a level playing field.”

He was echoing the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Pitak Intrawityanunt, who told WFS: fyl: “The disturbing fact is that economic policies in developed countries effectively prevent poor countries from trading their way out of poverty. Perversely, some of the staunchest advocates of free trade impose tariff rates on developing country exports that are on average four to five times higher than tariffs on developed countries’ exports. Moreover, millions of dollars in farm subsidies by some of the richest countries keep small-scale farmers in the developing world mired in poverty.”

Australia’s Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss in his statement today stressed that a “fair and open trading system” is vital for ensuring global food security and urged all countries to “seize the opportunity presented by the WTO Doha round to secure comprehensive agricultural reform in three key areas…market access, domestic support and export subsidies”.

Noting that industrialised countries were continuing with their huge domestic support to agriculture “despite statements to the contrary”, Australia said that the “lack of real reform by key nations is sending the wrong message at a time when strong leadership is so important to success in the Doha negotiations”.

“The all too common recipe of subsidised exports, the disposal of uneconomic industrialised country surpluses in the guise of food aid, is surely outdated as a viable long-term solution to developing country food security needs. It is time that we gave developing countries a genuine opportunity to develop their agricultural sectors and to trade on undistorted, fair and open markets,” the Australian minister added.

WFS: fyl has been convened to mobilise the political will and resources needed to speed up progress toward meeting the pledge by world leaders at the November 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) also held at FAO headquarters in Rome.

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RAP 02/25

More information at:
http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsummit/english/index.html