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Smokin' Mirrors: The Doha Round on sticky turf

 article about Smokin Mirrors: The Doha Round on sticky turf
2006-08-03 02:49:35

does the countryside seem to only reside our retirement dreams? We take a look
at agriculture, subsidies and the latest negotiations at the Doha Round.

There's a problem brewing in
the countryside of all major industrialised nations. Where I come from, the
countryside used to be teeming with people, young and old, who lived in the
country out of choice. They worked on farms and in towns. Business was
supported by local trade and vice versa. Obviously, the more people who live in
rural areas, the more active the economy of the area will be.

In recent
years, with the centralization of business, rural areas have changed
dramatically. In many towns, you won't find many people aged between 17 and 35.
They go to the cities for education, fun and, most importantly, work. There's
nothing left in the rural countryside for them, and the rural communities are
sadly lacking in many services as a result. In turn, cities are overcrowded.
The largely unsustainable development of most cities has raised the pollution
of the air and water through poor infrastructure and urban planning.
Importantly, with the increased populations in urban living also comes reduced
care for the environment in rural areas as well, from the smallest gardens to
family-owned farms. With the yearly average temperature already 0.7 degrees
centigrade higher than the onset of industrialisation, any tending of forests,
small farms or even small gardens is a simple solution for ensuring even the
most small-time garden can act as a C02 sink. On the flipside, as urban areas
become more crowded, people's access to parks and community gardens decreases,
which not only raises C02, but also places residents in an endless cycle of
consumerism and waste, with most of the world's resources currently being
consumed by people living in the urban areas of developed nations.

Of course,
there is another, very important aspect to rural communities which could be the
answer to a lot of our global problems – sustainable agriculture. Those who are
arguing for subsidies in agriculture to be dropped from global trading are
doing so because the world's most wealthy nations can create an overly abundant
supply of food, which then gets dumped on markets overseas, while the farmers
reap the subsidies. The issue of subsidies has been the largest stumbling block
in the latest Doha round of talks between the
European Union, the United States,
Australia, Japan, Brazil
and India, the six
negotiators currently attempting to iron out their differences in Geneva. Negotiations
began in 2001, and since that time, little headway has been made.

The Doha round
is a crucial for developing nations to get a fair deal from liberalised trade.
Even with Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), many developing countries
struggle to keep a foot in the door of developed nations' markets. "The share
of the African [EPA] countries' exports in the EU market has fallen steadily,
from 3 percent in 1985 to 0.9 percent in 2003, a reflection of the
competitiveness problems and supply constraints as well as declining real
prices of some primary commodities and restrictive rules of origin," wrote
Lawrence Hinkle and Richard Newfarmer in their paper "Risks and Rewards of
Regional Trading Arrangements in Africa: Economic Partnership Agreements
between the European Union and Sub-Saharan Africa", which was presented at this
year's World Bank ABCDE Conference in Tokyo. In their conclusion, they add: "In
many African countries the political economy environment for trade
liberalisation is difficult, because protectionist interests are powerful and
well-organized. Political enthusiasm for unilateral liberalization is limited.
Hoping for a "round for free," African countries are yet to really engage in
the multilateral WTO [World Trade Organization] discussions. Hence, by itself,
the Doha Round may not lead to any reductions in applied MFN tariff rates in

in developing nations struggle to find inroads to developed nations' markets
for their goods, or the opportunity to escape the utter destruction reaped upon
their land by monoculture farming techniques. At the same time, the question
must be asked: what are the subsidies actually paying for? The US wheat farmers
would die an unnatural death should their subsidies be removed, and the US is
one of the loudest voices when it comes to other nations removing their
subsidies while keeping their own, agreeing to cap their subsidies at US$15
billion dollars, a small reduction from their formerly offered $22.5 billion.
France is the most adamant that its subsidies should not be touched.
Considering the massive excess of wine on the EU market is being turned into
fuel, it is an understandable move to protect their world-famous produce.

is not working for the majority of developing nations at present. In other
words, the Uruguay Round, which was the 1993 precursor to Doha, has largely
failed to improve the economic situation for many developing nations, which are
still yet to enjoy the ‘free' aspects of trade that the more powerful nations
are. This does not mean that it could not work in the long-term, but most
economic experts agree at this point that as a trading system it has had many
detrimental effects on developing nations to date.

So the answer
seems to lie in the strange, unchartered waters between protectionism and
liberalism: that is, fair trade, not free trade. The developed nations
negotiating the Doha Round can hardly say they are negotiating either form of
trade at present. Until developing nations have a great deal more say in what
happens at the institutional level of organisations, the WTO in particular,
their deals will always be short changed for the interests of those with the
most negotiating power.

So, in the
meantime, developing nations should concentrate on sustainable development and,
most importantly, sustainable agriculture. Sure, the big businesses won't like
it, but at least taking this road will ensure the majority of people will have
food to eat and decent infrastructure that doesn't harm the environment. Right
now, they seem to have no other choice, and there are increased avenues for
this, including the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, which
produces carbon points in exchange for developed countries' investing in the
sustainable development of their poorer cousins.

nations, too, need to begin distancing themselves from mass produced
agricultural products. If the ‘agricultural' subsidies can be re-named ‘sustainable
development' subsidies, then there will be plenty of money to support the
switch to organic farming, as well as give a huge shot in the arm to smaller
farmers, increasing the economic diversity of the dying rural culture.
Additionally, it will get rid of the subsidy argument altogether, so the Doha
Round can move on the bigger problem of just how developing nations can be
pulled out of the endless cycle of poverty.

Everyone wins.

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