1. As The State of Food and Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific 2006 notes, the impact of trade policy on poverty, food security and inequality in developing countries is at the center of an intense international debate on the role of international trade in development. The current Doha Round of WTO negotiations makes development and poverty reduction a top priority. In addition, the Millennium Declaration underscores the importance of fair and open international trade in the context of development and the elimination of poverty.
2. Members noted the important role of donors and international financial institutions in promoting agricultural development, especially in terms of science, research and technology transfer. The Roundtable also noted that support for agriculture had declined during the past 20 years, and that renewed support was crucial for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and food security.
3. The Roundtable discussed the challenges in building a more open and fair global trading system that would enhance food security in member countries that meets the needs of the poor. It was agreed that this was an important goal of the Doha Round, but there were serious reservations expressed that the Round would address the needs of developing countries in accessing profitable markets that currently face significant trade barriers.
4. Members emphasized that trade should be not only open, but also fair. In particular, the Meeting noted the importance of special and differential treatment (SDT) and special safeguard mechanisms (SSM). They agreed that simply making the trading system freer does not automatically bring benefits to all parties. Small countries and the poor in most countries face special difficulties in benefiting from expanded trading opportunities. FAO was asked to provide assistance that focused on these special problems as part of further efforts to liberalize agricultural trade, including assistance to identify areas of comparative advantage. The Meeting also noted that comparative advantage may lie outside of agriculture.
5. The Roundtable suggested that this assistance could be structured in three layers. At the “bottom of the pyramid” FAO can draw on its extensive experience in helping farmers raise their productivity and incomes. There was widespread agreement that raising rural productivity was the highest priority and should be the first focus for FAO programmes. Emphasis was placed on the development of “knowledge-based agriculture” as an important way to increase productivity.
6. Second, the Roundtable noted that helping farmers, fishers and foresters to build marketing skills and obtain market information would enhance competitiveness and facilitate domestic and international trade.
7. Third, the Roundtable members requested that FAO provide more support for capacity building to strengthen the ability of developing countries to effectively participate in international trade negotiations. Members also expressed their view that barriers to their exports must be reduced. These barriers can be direct, such as through high tariffs or discrimination against value-added products (tariff escalation). But the barriers can also be indirect and subtle, in the form of subsidies to continued production in high-cost agricultural economies. Special concern was expressed over the use of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards as de facto barriers to trade, and FAO’s extensive experience in this area was specifically requested by several member countries to support their efforts to meet these standards. FAO was also asked to provide technical assistance in understanding the full impact of trade barriers on the prospects for pro-poor economic growth in member countries, and bringing this analysis to bear on trade negotiations.
8. The Roundtable expressed widespread support for the general list of recommendations in The State of Food and Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific 2006. These include: