27 January 2003, Rome -- A broad programme for training and capacity building on trade-related issues in food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry will shortly enter its second phase, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said on Monday.

It aims at bolstering the negotiating capacity of developing countries in the new round of trade talks.

Launched in 1999, the programme offered participants, mainly government officials dealing with agricultural trade matters, an introduction to the key trade and food security issues relating to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It focused on agreements affecting agricultural trade, fisheries and forestry, as well as agreements on phytosanitary measures, technical trade barriers and intellectual property rights.

The programme was funded by FAO with extra-budgetary support from a number of donor countries and has been implemented in collaboration with other international organizations, such as WTO and UNCTAD, the World Bank, regional and academic institutions.

The second phase, which will include a number of national, regional and global workshops, will begin with a national workshop in Sri Lanka in the third week of February. A subregional workshop for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean Countries will also take place in February.

The technical seminars will enable countries to analyse the potential options and implications of trade talks and means of strengthening their negotiating position.

They will also promote dialogue between national policy makers, domestic stakeholders, academics and civil society on issues involved in the current round of negotiations, the "Doha Development Agenda".

"The outcome of the first phase of this training and capacity building programme was very positive," said Hartwig de Haen, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department of FAO.

"Thanks to the financial support of many donors, FAO has been able to introduce a successful training programme intended to help developing countries and countries in transition to become better informed and equal partners in the ongoing multilateral trade talks," he said.

"However, we realise we need to work even more closely with member states to create individual negotiating capacities for countries and sub-regions. We have received many requests for technical assistance from member governments and, with the extra-budgetary support we are seeking, we hope to be able to fulfil these needs even better in the programme's second phase," he added.

Trade talks have entered a critical stage and in order to meet the requests before time runs out, FAO has organized an extraordinary meeting of donors on February 11th. The programme presented by FAO has a total value of US$ 5.7 million and is to be implemented during the next two years.

From theory to practice

The WTO was created in 1995 with the aim of regulating international trade. From the end of the Second World War until the mid-nineties, world trade was regulated under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). An overhaul of the multilateral trading system led to the Uruguay Round of trade talks and creation of the WTO.

A new round of trade negotiations was launched by the WTO at the 2001 Ministerial Conference, in Doha, Qatar, and is set to conclude not later than 1 January 2005. The agreements reached during these negotiations, the "Doha Round", will have implications for the production and trade of agricultural products in each country as well as impacting the food security of its citizens.

It is therefore fundamental that each country's negotiators are capable of evaluating the potential outcomes of negotiations, so they can take the right decision for their country.

During the first phase of the programme 14 subregional seminars were held and 160 countries participated. Many training techniques were used - including distance learning in the Latin American region."Forgovernments in this region, reducing the huge agricultural subsidies of other countries is essential to make their agricultural exports more competitive," said FAO expert Josť Luis Cordeu, Coordinator of the Priority Group for Agricultural Trade in the Latin American region. "Through workshops we were able to find out where countries shared common ground and where there were differences," he added.

During the training sessions experts examine countries' dual roles as both importer and exporter. They look at the effects of the Uruguay agreements on the country's import and export sectors and how they affect the competitiveness of their agriculture, in order to decide what positions they should take in the new round of talks.

"There are a whole range of questions to be taken into account during the negotiating process," explained economist Harmon Thomas, Chief, FAO Commodity Policy and Projection Service.

"Often countries do not have the human resources they need. Some delegations have hundreds of dedicated negotiators and groups of specialised experts, but others have just one or a couple of experts who have to take a host of difficult decisions - defining their country's position on agricultural export subsidies, access to markets, health and safety regulations or domestic support for certain products or producers," he said.

Agriculture negotiations began in 2000 and should conclude as part of the Doha Round not later than 1 January 2005 with the signing of a single accord by all. Countries are due to agree to the "modalities" - the formulae and quantitative targets for further liberalization - by the end of March this year, following Doha's commitments: reduction of export subsidies and domestic support, and better access to markets.

Countries are expected to have met several negotiating deadlines by September 2003 when the WTO will hold its fifth Ministerial Conference in Mexico where important decisions will be taken. The negotiations will then enter their final phase with the aim of all countries signing a single agreement not later than 1 January 2005.

Nuria Felipe Soria
Information Officer, FAO
[email protected]
(+39) 06 570 55899