MANILA, September 18, 2003 (MALAYA) by Dahli Aspillera - THE papers report that the Philippine delegation pressed hard for the right of developing countries to adopt special safeguard measures (SSM) to protect local agricultural products against unfair competition from the developed countries, an attempt to level the playing field.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo was reported to have sharply criticized the draft ministerial text submitted to the WTO for ignoring the recommendations of the developing countries for fairer global trade in agricultural commodities.

Lorenzo stated that the AoA should "correct the gross imbalances in commitments by developed and developing economies made during the Uruguay Round [in WTO talks]."

Under the existing agreement, the developed countries, principally the US and Europe, provided heavy subsidies to their farmers in violation of the free trade concept. This has placed the agricultural commodities of poor countries at a big disadvantage even in their home markets. Cheap surplus products are being dumped on the Philippines by rich nations. He also accused the developed countries of imposing barriers on agricultural exports from the developing nations, masquerading as non-tariff devices.

Lorenzo was reported to have complained that the meeting was strong on rhetoric about concerns for the poor farmers of the world but weak in translating the rhetoric into actual declarations in the text of the draft to be submitted to the WTO ministers for inclusion in the final WTO declaration in Cancun.

There was failure in the part of WTO agriculture committee to reflect the concerns of the Philippine delegation for the farmers of the developing countries who are losing to their counterparts in the developed countries in the global market because of unfair practices by the governments of the developed world.

Recommendations made by the Philippine delegation at the WTO ministerial conference to protect the interests of local farmers:

* Ensuring that there will be no further reduction of tariffs unless there is substantial and eventual removal of trade-distorting export subsidies and domestic support measures by developed countries.

* Securing special and differential (SND) treatment for developing countries by recognizing their right to declare "special and strategic products" (SSDs) as vulnerable and sensitive products for food security and rural development considerations.

* Providing for automatic imposition of additional duty to counter subsidized imports.

* Retention of the special safeguard measures (SSG) provision in the WTO agreement but only for developing countries to ensure protection against import surges in agricultural commodities.

* Expansion of SSG to include other vulnerable products.

Another important safety net for the agricultural sector is the application of additional duties on imports of agricultural products that harm the domestic industry.

There needs to be stricter implementation of higher tariffs to protect local producers of onions and meat, including poultry and cattle, to remedy the surge of imports of these products that flood the local market.

In coordination with the local law-enforcement agencies, such as the Bureau of Customs and the PNP, the DA should implement a firmer crackdown on illegal importation of agricultural products. Thousands of tons of imported agricultural products like cabbage, onion, lettuce and chicken parts are illegally brought into the Philippines to the detriment of these same products produced by Filipino farmers.

Smuggling became rampant because of the import liberalization policy imposed by the WTO, critics said.

Filipino farmers from as far as Northern Luzon and the Bicol provinces have staged protest demonstrations. Unfortunately, the PNP stopped groups of farmers joining the protest rally from reaching Manila. These groups were then forced to stage their protest rallies in towns in Bicol and Central Luzon where they were stopped.

The local farmers' protest against the WTO rules on agricultural trade was in solidarity with the farmers' protest from other developing countries.

A South Korean farmer committed suicide by stabbing himself at Cancun at the height of the protests. The sacrifice emboldened the protests of Mexican farmers and other groups to intensify their protests at Cancun.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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