TWENTY-FIFTH FAO REGIONAL
Beirut, Lebanon, 20 - 24 March 2000
REVIEW OF THE PROGRESS IN THE WTO MULTINATIONAL TRADE NEGOTIATIONS ON AGRICULTURE
1. The Uruguay Round (UR) represents a milestone in the multilateral trading system. For the first time, agriculture has been incorporated under operationally effective rules and disciplines. The UR Agreements and ministerial decisions with specific bearing on agriculture, forestry and fisheries include the Agreements on Agriculture (AoA) the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Textiles and Clothing, Subsidies and Countervailing Measures and the Decision on Measures Concerning Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries. Commitments made under these Agreements are central to the broader package of interrelated liberalizing commitments aimed at significantly improving conditions of competition and opportunities for trade in agricultural products. Whether members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or not, all countries are expected to be affected by these Agreements. Although the UR was successful in bringing agriculture for the first time under the rules and regulations of GATT, a lot remains to be done before developing countries can benefit significantly.
2. The UR Agreements began a process of gradually removing production- and trade-distorting practices and bringing about a more competitive and fairer trading system. Signatories to the Agreements assume the obligation of complying with their provisions. In order to fulfil this obligation and take advantage of the new opportunities, it is essential that countries develop their own capacity to examine, assess and evaluate their national circumstances in the context of the Agreements.
3. There are considerable differences in countries' ability to assess their specific circumstances, meet their UR commitments in agriculture, forestry and fisheries and subsequently benefit from new opportunities arising from the UR Agreements, and many will require technical assistance before they can do so. Because of its specialized expertise and unique position in international agricultural, forestry and fisheries affairs, FAO is well placed to provide that assistance, not only in areas related to implementation of the UR Agreements but also in preparing developing countries to participate as equal partners in future multilateral trade negotiations.
4. During the UR (1986-94), FAO made direct inputs to the negotiating process in a number of areas. These included the negotiations leading to the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) (FAO work on measurement of protection and on FAO's Principles of Surplus Disposal), the Agreements on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) (FAO work in the Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention, IPPC), and the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries (NFIDCs) (technical assistance to the group of countries eligible to receive assistance under this Decision).
5. Since the conclusion of the UR at Marrakech in April 1994 and the coming into force of the various agreements in 1995, FAO has been actively involved in assisting member countries in the UR follow-up process. The main activities covering agriculture, forestry and fisheries have been:
6. Most developing countries, especially the least-developed, were unable to participate effectively in the UR negotiations, and in particular the negotiations on agriculture, because of limited institutional and expert resources which placed constraints on their negotiating capacity. Recognizing their capacity constraints and the challenges they face in coping with further negotiations, the World Food Summit Plan of Action called on FAO and other organizations to continue assisting developing countries in preparing for future MTNs so that they become well informed and equal partners in the negotiating process.
7. The most frequent problems developing countries face in their efforts to implement their UR commitments and keep pace with further negotiations are:
8. In view of these major gaps in developing countries' capacity to deal with the UR follow up, and given the urgency of the matter, FAO has recently intensified its special activities focussing on the forthcoming MTNs. Summary information on the activities undertaken on this issue is reported on a regular basis to the senior management of FAO.
9. In relation to the above, FAO has recently launched an "Umbrella Programme for Training on Uruguay Round and Future Multilateral Negotiations on Agriculture", which entails the implementation of a total of 14 sub-regional training courses that began in June 1999 and would continue through mid-2000. The programme aims at strengthening national capacity on WTO issues to enable countries to derive maximum benefits from the existing WTO Agreements and meet their obligations, as well as to be adequately prepared for and participate effectively in the new round of MTNs, which has already been launched in Seattle in November 1999. They should therefore be able to participate fully in the current negotiations, defend their interests effectively, develop their own negotiating position and evaluate the proposals made by others.
10. Another related major FAO activity was the Symposium on "Agriculture, Trade and Food Security", which was held in Geneva on 23 and 24 September 1999. The symposium was part of FAO recent activities to highlight developing countries concerns relating to agricultural trade, in particular the interrelationship between agriculture, economic development and food security. Trade in general, and agricultural trade in particular, is a major instrument for further integrating the developing countries in the global economy. Prior to that, a workshop convened in Geneva during 22-23 September 1998 addressed the implications of the UR for agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the less advantaged developing countries. In addition, an expert meeting reviewing experience of the developing countries with the implementation of the UR AoA was organized in Rome on 8-9 July 1999.
11. FAO has recently organized, in cooperation with WHO and WTO, a "Conference on International Food Trade Beyond 2000: Science-Based Decisions, Harmonization, Equivalence and Mutual Recognition", which was held in Melbourne, Australia from 11 to 15 October 1999. The main aim of the Conference was to achieve the full involvement of Member Governments in existing and proposed activities related to the Codex Alimentarius and WTO.
12. In addition, FAO organized an Internet Conference (15 September to 31 December 1999) on "International Prospects for Dairying in the Next WTO Negotiating Round". The conference aim was to provide a broad, well-informed outlook on the possible outcomes of the next round of WTO negotiations that could lead to further liberalization of trade in agricultural products and their implications for the dairy industry. The conference papers presented for comment and discussion were originally given at an international symposium held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 3-4 June 1999. The central idea behind the Internet Conference is to make the papers presented at the Buenos Aires symposium available to as wide an international audience as possible and thereby promote understanding and discussion on the probable implications of the forthcoming round of WTO negotiations for the dairy sector.
13. In preparation for the Third WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle, FAO has issued a series of "Agricultural Trade Fact Sheets", which comprise 10 background documents/briefs addressing various aspects in relation to agricultural trade and the forthcoming round of MTNs. These documents include: (i) Trade, Environment, and Sustainable Development; (ii) Trade Issues for Forest Products; (iii) Agricultural Trade and Food Security; (iv) Conference on International Food Trade Beyond 2000: Science-Based Decisions, Harmonization, Equivalence and Mutual Recognition; (v) Food Quality, Safety and International Trade; (vi) The TRIPS Agreement and Agriculture; (vii) World Fisheries Trade and Some Emerging Issues; (viii) Biosafety Issues Related to Biotechnology for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security ; (ix) The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC); and (x) The Food Situation in the Least Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries.
14. Meanwhile, the FAO Uruguay Round Web site (http://www.fao.org/ur/) continues to be regularly up-dated and technical assistance is being continuously provided by the Organization, in partnership with other UN institutions participating in the Integrated Framework for Trade-related Technical Assistance to least developed countries. Moreover, the preparation of a CD-ROM containing similar information as in the Web site is currently underway.
15. In the Near East (NE) Region, fourteen countries are presently members of the WTO, namely: Bahrain, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kuwait, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Six other NE countries have applied for membership, including Algeria, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In view of the relatively high openness of the countries' economies, which makes them more dependent on trade, there is a growing need to understand the forces that influence changes in international trade. However, most countries of the Region, have neither the capacity nor the resources to face the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities flowing from the UR Agreements while also preparing themselves for the next round of multilateral trade negotiations.
16. FAO provides information on and makes assessments of the global market situation and outlook for around 80 agricultural commodities and is responsible for monitoring the food security situation through its Global Information and Early Warning System. In addition, technical assistance is provided to developing countries, including several countries of the Region, on formulating and implementing their national commodity policies and programmes, particularly in connection with the multilateral trade negotiations on agriculture.
17. Much of FAO's work on commodities and trade is carried out through Inter-Governmental Groups (IGGs). Several IGG meetings and expert consultations were held during 1998-99, which were attended by delegates from many countries of the Region. While the bulk of FAO's work on technical information and analysis on commodity markets has a global coverage, many documents also address issues and emerging problems specific to this Region. In addition, not only governments but also the private traders and other institutions benefit from regular market reports on key commodities that are issued on a regular basis. The IGGs also played an active role in commodity development projects financed by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC). While participating countries benefit directly from these projects, countries from all regions producing these commodities stand to gain from the work on research and development.
18. FAO has been carrying out assessments of the UR Agreements and providing technical assistance to NE member countries in WTO-related activities over several years including the period leading to the Marrakech Agreement in April 1994 and more intensely since then. Apart from the analytical work of global nature, such as the assessment of the consequences of the UR on individual commodity markets, FAO has also been providing technical assistance to assess the consequences of the UR on national food and agricultural policies, through regional seminars as well as studies focused on individual NE countries.
19. In agricultural and food policy, FAO has been providing technical assistance to NE member countries through regional workshops and country-specific projects, as the needs arise. At the country level, FAO assistance over the last two years was focused mainly on non-WTO member countries of the Region. Two major technical assistance projects were completed in Syria1 and Yemen2, which examined the implications of WTO membership for the agricultural sectors of these countries. The assistance to Syria and Yemen aimed at supporting the Governments in evaluating present policies to determine their compatibility with the AoA and SPS Measures, and thus to identify options available for well-informed policies that are compatible with these agreements as well as consistent with the country's development objectives. These projects focused in particular on analytical questions involved in the calculation of domestic support and the effects of the UR on key export and import agricultural commodities. A similar on-going project in Saudi Arabia examines the implications for agriculture from WTO membership.
20. FAO continued to assist the member countries in assessing the impact of the new WTO rules on national policies and institutions through the preparation of long term strategies for agricultural development till the year 2010. In addition, FAO is providing technical assistance to Egypt and Yemen in formulating strategies for agricultural development where the impacts of the WTO are reviewed. Similar assistance is anticipated for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United Arab Emirates, where the preparation of a long term strategic framework is envisaged taking into consideration the impact of the recent changes in the international trading system.
21. The focus of technical assistance has recently shifted to preparing NE countries for the new round of multinational trade negotiations on agriculture under the WTO. The NE countries were involved in all the expert meetings and symposia organised by FAO on issues relating to future negotiations on agriculture. In addition, special activities were organised to address issues of particular interest to the NE countries. In December 1998, FAO organized an Expert Consultation in Rabat, Morocco, on the "Preparation for the Next Trade Negotiations on Agriculture." In addition to FAO and WTO experts, the Consultation was attended by experts from seven countries of the Region, including four WTO member countries (Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) and three non-member countries (Libya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen). The Consultation focused on the experience of countries with the implementation of the UR Agreement on Agriculture and the constraints and opportunities arising from its implementation. The implications for countries of the region of changes in the import regime of the European Union in the fruit and vegetables sector and in the Euro-Mediterranean agreements were also analyzed.
22. The Rabat Expert Consultation was instrumental in highlighting some of the key concerns of countries in the Region with respect to the UR Agreement on Agriculture and membership in WTO:
23. The Region's experiences with the implementation of the UR Agreements and concerns related to the forthcoming round of negotiations were also addressed in the FAO Symposium on "Agricultural Trade and Food Security", which was held in Geneva on 23 and 24 September 1999 (refer to paragraph 11, above). The Symposium examined the major global trends in agricultural trade and food security in recent years and analyzed how the changing international policy environment may have affected those trends. The policy environment for agricultural development and food security in the developing countries was also reviewed, in relation to provisions of the UR Agreement on Agriculture, and areas were identified where policy changes may be needed. These analyses were based on case studies from sixteen developing countries, covering some of the largest agricultural-producing as well as food-importing countries, and including three major NE countries: Egypt, Morocco and Pakistan.
24. As noted earlier (see paragraph 10), FAO has recently launched an "Umbrella Programme for Training on Uruguay Round and Future Multilateral Trade Negotiations on Agriculture", which entails the implementation of a total of 14 sub-regional training workshops. This includes two sub-regional training workshops in the NE Region: the first was held in Cairo, 26 to 30 September 1999, whereas the second to be held in Abu Dhabi or Muscat, 3-7 June, 2000.
25. The main purpose of these workshops is to enhance national capacity on WTO issues so that countries are in a stronger position to meet their obligations and accrue the benefits under the existing WTO Agreements, and are better prepared to participate in the next round of multilateral trade negotiations (MTNs). They will, thus, be able to benefit from the process, minimize possible adverse effects, develop their own negotiating position and evaluate proposals made by others. The specific objectives of the training workshops are to: (i) enhance understanding of the existing WTO Agreements so that participating countries are fully knowledgeable of their entitlements and obligations, and therefore able to further improve their trade and agricultural policies; (ii) prepare participants to analyze issues likely to arise in the negotiating process and to participate in the forthcoming MTNs; and (iii) take up and debate trade issues of regional/sub-regional importance. In addition, the training programme will provide information and guidance on electronic access to sources of information (including the FAO web-site) covering interpretation, impact, transition measures and debate on MTNs and UR Agreements.
26. Participants in the Cairo workshop (26-30 September 1999) included a total of 56 experts from 11 NE countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen). The participants comprised agricultural trade and policy analysts as well as other technical specialists in the relevant Ministries, and academic institutions who have the responsibility of advising the governments on their negotiations in Geneva for the agricultural sector. In order to build a minimum advisory "critical mass", five representatives actually involved in the WTO negotiations were invited from each country, including specialists in: agricultural policy and trade, sanitary/phyto-sanitary issues, plant protection and animal health protection, and specialists in international legislation concerning intellectual property rights. The workshop has been conducted in Arabic, English and French.
27. For the purposes of the Umbrella Programme, FAO prepared a comprehensive Training Kit which covered in detail the AoA and its implications for agriculture and sector policies, the SPS and TBT as well as the TRIPS agreement including its regulatory and legal aspects. The texts are also available in the above three languages.
28. The GCC workshop (3 to 7 June, 2000) will focus on the six Arab States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). Each invited country will send up to ten experts in the same disciplines and specialties as identified in the Cairo workshop. In general, the workshop will have very similar structure and organization as the Cairo workshop, though it could also focus on issues of specific interest to the GCC countries.
1 Report of the Round Table on Implications of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations for Agricultural Policies of the Syrian Arab Republic, March 1998.
2 Report of the Round Table on Implications of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations for Agricultural Policies of the Republic of Yemen, February 1999.