A (weak) case for food trade liberalization

Dr Supachai begins by mak­ing the ortho­dox but fund­men­tal obser­va­tion that “food self-suf­fi­cien­cy is not equiv­a­lent to food secu­ri­ty.” Autarky has nev­er been a sen­si­ble pol­i­cy either for growth or for food secu­ri­ty. If it were then North Korea real­ly would be the “work­ers’ par­adise” (the for­mer Alba­nia, too). bq. Today there is, how­ev­er, the real­i­sa­tion that a sus­tain­able domes­tic food sup­ply can­not be ensured by each gov­ern­ment act­ing indi­vid­u­al­ly. His­to­ry has repeat­ed­ly shown that pro­tec­tion­ism and iso­la­tion from world mar­kets have nev­er been the right answer. “WTO”:http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spsp_e/spsp37_e.htm He then demon­strates that those devel­op­ing coun­tries that have grown fastest—including coun­tries with low income lev­els such as Chi­na— are those that have been most open to trade. He also brings this les­son back to the agri­cul­ture sec­tor and agri­cul­tur­al trade bq. For many [devel­op­ing] coun­tries, includ­ing the poor­est amongst them, how well they do eco­nom­i­cal­ly depends on how well they do in agri­cul­ture. Of course, improve­ments in agri­cul­tur­al out­put and export per­for­mance depend on a wide range of fac­tors out­side the trade pol­i­cy sphere. But it is wide­ly accept­ed and under­stood that a fur­ther reduc­tion of trade bar­ri­ers and trade-dis­tort­ing sub­si­dies will help boost the eco­nom­ic per­for­mance of devel­op­ing coun­try agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­ers. But when it comes to the exag­ger­at­ed, mis-direct­ed con­cerns about mar­ket access lib­er­al­iza­tion in the Doha round of negotiations—concerns fanned by Oxfam’s lat­est “propaganda”:http://www.maketradefair.com/en/index.htm efforts—Supachai backs away! bq.  I know that there are con­cerns that trade lib­er­al­iza­tion some­how pos­es a “threat” for food secu­ri­ty. This real­ly is a mis­per­cep­tion … First­ly, to facil­i­tate their tran­si­tion to a more lib­er­al trad­ing envi­ron­ment in agri­cul­ture, devel­op­ing coun­tries will have access to a range of spe­cial and dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment (SDT) pro­vi­sions. This means low­er cuts in tar­iffs, trade-dis­tort­ing domes­tic sup­port and export sub­si­dies, and longer imple­men­ta­tion peri­ods …  Sec­ond­ly, all devel­op­ing coun­tries, includ­ing LDCs, will have access to a range of pol­i­cy instru­ments includ­ing Sen­si­tive Prod­ucts, Spe­cial Prod­ucts and the new Spe­cial Safe­guard Mech­a­nismThird­ly, devel­op­ing coun­tries can also rest assured that most of their devel­op­ment pro­grammes to ensure food secu­ri­ty will hard­ly be affect­ed by the WTO domes­tic sup­port reforms, to the extent that they are non-trade dis­tort­ing and are cov­ered by the Green Box of the Agree­ment on Agri­cul­ture. What a con­fused mes­sage! How will it help devel­op­ing coun­tries achieve the greater food secu­ri­ty and growth that trade lib­er­al­iza­tion promis­es if the basis of their own par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Doha reforms is a col­lec­tion of vague­ly spec­i­fied excus­es from reform?

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