G20: Ministers warned over trade plans

G20 AGRICULTURE Ministers have been warned to ensure their concerns about trade do not obscure the key issues surrounding of food security ahead of crucial talks this week.

Ahead of tomorrow’s G20 agriculture summit in Paris, farm groups from 66 countries have adopted a joint declaration stressing that trade policy must not be allowed to dictate domestic agricultural policies or ignore non-trade concerns.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy intends to use the summit to press for tighter controls and greater transparency in the agricultural commodity and financial markets. He blames speculators on the high prices and volatility seen in the global food markets in recent years.

But the group of world farming organisations has urged Governments not to lose sight of the importance of production to food security and have warned against an approach of simply opening up markets, under ongoing World Trade Organisation (WTO) reforms.

 “With less than 10 per cent of the world’s agricultural production traded on global markets, agriculture plays an important role in providing food security to local populations, maintaining viable rural communities and looking after precious land resources,” the organisations said in a statement.  

“Farm groups therefore insist upon the recognition of the special and strategic role of agriculture in light of the huge challenges it faces: increasing price volatility exacerbated by excessive speculation on the markets, finite land and water resources and threats posed by climate change.”

During a press conference in Brussels, Djibo Bagna, president of Roppa, representing farm organisations from West Africa said: “We are questioning if the approach of simply opening markets, without regard to these issues and how they impact farmers who produce food, is really the best way forward.

“Better coherence is required between any agreement on agriculture at the WTO and the commitments undertaken through other major international treaties on issues such as poverty, hunger, climate change and biodiversity.”

Paolo Bruni, Cogeca president, representing farm EU farm organisations, said his organisation ‘firmly support the objective that countries respect the same clear, transparent and predictable rules for world trade’.

“But trade is a means of enabling human development, not an end in itself. Food is vital for human life and cannot be treated like other commodities,” he said.

He said the extent of liberalisation under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture must be  therefore ‘be tempered by the need to provide the means and economic incentives to farmers in all parts of the world, so that they can fulfil their production potential in a sustainable way’.

Call for action

In a call for ‘Call for Coherence Declaration’, the farming organisations have urged Governments to take coordinated action to ensure more stability on agricultural markets and to strengthen farmers’ position relative to concentrated agri-food businesses.

They have laid out the following principles for politicians to take into account when pursuing trade agreements:

  • All countries must have the right to produce for domestic consumption in order to improve self-sufficiency and ensure their food security, including the use of tariff measures;
  • Trade rules must allow for policy measures, including supply management, which promote stability of food supplies and prices;
  • Special and differential treatment and capacity-building for developing countries must enable them to address the real concerns of resource-poor, vulnerable and small-scale farmers;
  • All countries should have the right to meet the non-trade concerns of their citizens including food safety, the environment, animal welfare and needs of rural areas so as to promote sustainable agriculture and, help combat climate change and, protect biodiversity.

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