Poor countries claim they have met rich nations’ demands to constrain tariff protection for vulnerable farmers, a move they said should boost the flagging Doha round of global trade talks.
A meeting of the Group of 33 developing countries in Indonesia said it had reduced by half the indicators it would use to determine which agricultural products would receive special protection. But rich countries declined to say whether the concessions were sufficient to induce them to make fresh offers in the talks, which have been spluttering since their restart in January.
When the Doha round collapsed in acrimony last year, the US complained developing countries wanted huge loopholes in the reductions in farm import tariffs. Such “special product” exemptions would permit poor nations to continue to protect subsistence and vulnerable small-scale farmers, but the US said proposed criteria for selecting them were vague and sweeping.
Mari Pangestu, Indonesia’s trade minister and chair of the G33, said the number of indicators to determine such exemptions – which include the contribution of farm products to rural livelihoods and wider economic development – would be halved to 12. “We, the developing countries, especially the G33, are constructively engaging in this process. We do not want to be seen as the ones not contributing,” she said.
The G33 comprises poor countries wanting to defend uncompetitive farmers but Brazil and other efficient emerging market farm ex-porters backed its position. Celso Amorim, Brazilian foreign minister, said the onus was now on the US to offer bigger cuts in subsidies.
Japan, the US and the European Union welcomed the fact that developing countries were engaging in the talks, but said it was premature to judge how far the new guidelines would reduce protection. “As always, the devil is in the detail”, said Sean Spicer, spokesman for Susan Schwab, US trade representative. “But it is positive that the G33 are looking for a way forward.”
■The US has unveiled proposals to cut world fishing subsidies by 50 per cent, under the Doha trade talks, reports Fiona Harvey.
Under the plans, governments would have their ability to pay for fuel, ships and fishing equipment for their fleets drastically reduced. They would be allowed to subsidise safety improvements and the removal of boats from fleets.
Ms Schwab said: “The World Trade Organisation faces an historic opportunity to resolve a serious problem that distorts trade and damages the environment.”
Global fisheries subsidies amount to between $30bn and $34bn a year, according to Oceana, an environmental group. It said at least $20bn of this was in harmful subsidies that encouraged increased fishing, leaving the world’s fishing fleet more than two and a half times bigger than it should be in order to safely maintain fish stocks.