The deadlock in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) so called Doha Development Round negotiations remains firmly in place. Negotiators seem unable to meet deadline after deadline for delivering on many of the Round promises. Last year in the meeting that was held in Bali, Indonesia, there were some baby steps that were painted as a breakthrough. That optimism has evaporated since.
If development is at the heart of the Doha Round, agreement on agriculture contentious issues provide the legs on which the Round will stand or fall. Achieving concrete results in agriculture is critical not only to fulfil the Doha mandate and unlock this main “gateway issue”, but more fundamentally because the development of African economies cannot overlook a sector which employs two thirds of its labour force, and plays a pivotal role for food security and poverty eradication.
Twenty years after the entry into force of the Agreement on Agriculture, international agricultural markets remain heavily distorted, and characterized by relatively high protection. Developed countries have continued to subsidize (mainly large) producers, ultimately at the expense of small-holder farmers in the developing world. At the same time, whilst some emerging economy countries have been able to exploit the flexibilities in the agreement and adopt their own forms of domestic support, other developing countries, including most African countries, have so far been unable to do the same, and end up being disadvantaged twice.
New challenges have also emerged since the Agreement on Agriculture was signed: from market concentration among a few large corporations (notably on products of immediate interest to Africa, such as coffee or cocoa), to the financialization of commodity markets which has failed to redress the volatility in international prices; from the impact of climate change, to the increasing weight of non-tariff barriers. So far there is no breakthrough on meaningful reductions in domestic support (or domestic subsidies) by the major subsidizers including the US, EU and Japan. Given the clear understanding that the outcome in agriculture will be calibrated with the outcome in the other areas under negotiation, including non-agriculture market access (NAMA) and services, this in effect means that the possibility of concluding the Doha Round is not in sight. This also implies that the WTO is not yet in a position to provide impetus for a significant contribution towards the post-2015 development framework, although trade has been recognized in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a ‘means of implementation’for a new, bolder agenda.