CANCUN, MEXICO: RP RALLIES POOR NATIONS ON KEY WTO ISSUES

CANCUN, MEXICO, September 13, 2003  (STAR) By Marianne V. Go  - The Philippines has taken the initiative to work on building a broader coalition of developing countries that could successfully push for the inclusion of key provisions in the hotly-debated agricultural policy issues at the ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting.

Trade and Industry Secretary Manuel Roxas II, the leader of the Philippine delegation to the Fifth WTO Ministerial Meeting being held in this resort town, said the so-called Group of 21 has solidly agreed to support the counter-measure, as rich nations led by the US and European countries appeared indifferent to the proposal.

The Group of 21 consists of developing nations led by India and Brazil demanding an end to export subsidies and major cuts in other forms of subsidies for farmers in the rich countries.

Among the most contentious issues in the WTO talks include the substantive reduction in domestic support and export subsidies in the developed countries and open market access in the developing nations.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. said that the initiative has already gained support from the 17-member Cairns Group,which consists of both developing and developed countries that include Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The WTO meeting has evolved into a battle between the rich and poor countries. The developing countries have been denouncing their rich counterparts for giving heavy subsidies to their agricultural exports.

This, in turn, leads to their products being "dumped" in the markets of developing countries at much lower prices that those being charged by local producers who are thus being forced out of the market.

Lorenzo said the developed world’s agricultural subsidies amounted to $320 billion last year, with the US appropriating $180 billion for its farmers for the next decade.

He added that at the same time, the developing countries are reviewing their tariff policies to provide more protection for domestic agricultural producers, especially if the move in the WTO to eliminate trade subsidies for agricultural products fails.

Likewise, the Philippines along with the Alliance for Strategic Products and Special Safeguard Measures, is pushing for the inclusion of special and differential treatment on some still to be specified special products.

Roxas explained that developing countries are simply trying to ensure that the text on the possible agriculture framework would reflect the developing countries’ position rather than that of the United States and the European Union.

The US and EU are supporting provisions that would supposedly concede some reduction in their controversial domestic support and export subsidies, while on the other hand, asking for more market access.

However, Roxas said the Philippines, like all other developing countries, would not be forced into the US and EU’s supposed compromise stance.

Trade Undersecretary Tomas Aquino said that the issue of market access would be easy to comply with through customs regulations, but on the other hand, pointed out that withdrawal of domestic support and export subsidies would be harder to achieve.

Thus, Aquino said the Philippines would first want to see what the US will really do to reduce its domestic support and export subsidies before it accedes to grant more market access.

Tariff Commission chairman Edgardo B. Abon, for his part explained that the current battle on the wording of the possible agriculture framework is part of the so-called "language architecture" during such negotiations.

Abon explained that part of the "language architecture" exercise involves "nuances" that would affect future actions of each member.

He pointed out that in engaging in such revisions, "you should try to analyze the terms and make sure that your interest are well covered."

Abon warned that "if it slips past, you suffer the consequences."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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