The current round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation’s Ministerial Conference in Geneva, Switzerland is showing that agriculture is once again a sticky point among the countries of the world.
This, according to agricultural minister Thoko Didiza, who is attending the WTO meeting for agri ministers with trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel.
The South African government believes there’s a divide between developed and developing members, and South Africa’s main priority during negotiations is to achieve a substantial and real reduction of international trade that distorts the support that governments can afford to farmers domestically. Also, to ensure adequate policy space for addressing poverty, inequality and low economic growth.
“For South Africa, the negotiations need to follow a certain sequence, with domestic support as a priority,” Didiza said and added that developing countries such as South Africa have been subjected to a distorting system for years.
She believes historical imbalances need to be addressed, and the playing field needs to be levelled, before negotiations on market access continue.
“It is important that the revival of the agriculture negotiations must not undo or dilute the gains that had been made in the previous rounds of negotiations, especially relating to support for resource-poor and rural farmers… ,” Didiza said.
She believes it is vital to ensure a policy space for developing countries to bolster agriculture domestically.
Addressing food insecurity
One of the current international sticking points is different stances on public stock holding. Public stock holding allows governments to procure crops like rice and wheat at minimum support prices from their farmers, then to store and distribute those stocks to the poor.
But a debate is raging on whether public stock holdings should be allowed to be exported in order to “assist in humanitarian interventions to address food insecurity” in the world’s least developed countries and net-importing countries.
“Selling these stocks in open markets without safeguards may distort the market,” Didiza said. She cautioned that it must be carefully negotiated and clarified how such measures could be used within WTO rules.
South Africa will continue to advocate for negotiation, Didiza said. The last major decision on agricultural trade was taken at the Nairobi WTO ministerial conference in December 2015, on the elimination of export subsidies.
At the ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, no joint declaration or work programme could be agreed upon. To date, progress has been limited with members mainly repeating known positions, continuing the divide between the West and the East, and developed and developing members.
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