Published: The Financial Express, September 13, 2003
By Pradeep S Mehta
Cancun Sept 12: Agriculture continues to hog the headlines here and any agreement appears as elusive as it was when the ministerial began. The matter continues to agitate those outside the hallowed portals of the convention centre. Farmers groups continued their agitation few miles away charged by the sad incident of a Korean farm leader committing hara-kiri. The farmer: Lee Kyung-hae climbed the high security fence waving “WTO kills Farmers”, took out a knife and stabbed himself in the chest. Incidentally, he was the same farmer who had camped outside the WTO building in Geneva a few months ago asking for exclusion of agriculture from the WTO.
Mr Lee’s death must be in vain. The two groups—with a large silent majority continue to hold hardline positions. The G-21 alliance (comprising of countries like Brazil, India and China) is holding on, with the other party: the EU trying hard to break this alliance. That is the crux of the proceedings that dominated discussions at the WTO ministerial conference in Cancun on September 11. There is a feeling among the EU officials that India is a difficult nut to crack. A strategy to separate Brazil from India may be well on their cards. That is why they have primarily identified Brazil as the leader of G-21 rather than India.
Further, developed countries have spotted some clear differences between the two big developing countries – Brazil and India – on contentious agriculture issues. Brazil, a leading farm exporter and member of the Cairns group of countries is strongly advocating for total liberalisation of agriculture that includes tariff reductions and complete phasing out of subsidies by rich countries.
On the other hand, India is mainly interested in the elimination of subsidies and not the reduction of tariffs, as it itself maintains relatively high tariffs rates to shield her farmers. Another soft target is Argentina, which owes billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund.
Delivering an update on the day’s happenings at the Ministerial, Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Comm-issioner, in a briefing with NGO representatives, said that the meeting this afternoon with the facilitator of the agriculture group was the starting point of the real negotiations in agriculture. The discussions lasted over two hours where the G-21 and the EU presented their respective positions. Mr Fischler commented that the G-21 countries in their proposal were demanding reforms in the Blue Box (elimination of blue box subsidies), Green Box measures (capping and strict criterion) and Amber Box (setting of higher targets and ambitious timeliness for trade distorting subsidies.
According to him, the fact that they were discussing Green box measures, besides Blue box and Amber box makes their proposal flawed. The EU’s position, he said is that “the Green box indicates non-trade distorting subsidies and the WTO is only concerned with trade distorting subsidies, so why should we discuss Green box measures at all”. The risk he said was that discussing this will block discussions on other sectors that need reform.