July 20, 2005



Asian Farmers' Group for Cooperation Holds 7th Regular Meeting in Seoul

On May 10 and ll, 2005, the Asian Farmers'Group for Cooperation (AFGC), which represents agricultural organizations of the nine countries in the Asian monsoon region, held its 7th regular meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Discussed at the meeting were sensitive products, Special Products (SPs), special safeguards (SSGs) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), the designation of which is essential for farmers, mostly small-scale family farmers, in the Asian monsoon region to compete fair globally under the WTO. On the basis of consensus reached among the constituents, the AFGC adopted the following joint declaration.

Characteristics of Agriculture in Asian Monsoon Region Should Be Reflected to the Modalities with regard to Sensitive and Special Products, as well as SSG and SSM
In the "Framework for Establishing Modalities in Agriculture" on August 1, 2004, it was agreed that WTO members may designate an appropriate number of tariff lines to be treated as sensitive, and the question of the special safeguard (SSG) would remain under negotiation. Furthermore, it was agreed that developing country members would have the flexibility to designate an appropriate number of products as Special Products (SPs), and a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) would be established for use by developing country members as part of the special and differential treatment for developing countries.
In most of the countries in the Asian monsoon region, the overall agricultural trade balances have been getting worse since the Uruguay Round Agricultural Agreement (URAA). This fact indicates the URAA failed to address the particular priorities and interests of small-scale farmers, forced them to open up their markets and curtailed their right to protect and promote the development of sensitive products.

Furthermore, the AFGC is deeply concerned by the fact that agricultural trade is concentrated in the hands of a small number of trading entities. These entities often conduct unfair business practices in the form of cartelized behaviour, dumping, predatory pricing, mergers and acquisitions, which often undermine the non-trade concerns of countries such as environmental protection and land conservation.

In such a context, the inclusion of the sensitive products and SPs, as well as the SSG and SSM, in the Framework Agreement can be considered as a significant achievement for food-importing countries in this region, although the particular interests of rural poor and small-scale farmers dependent on exports as well as consumers should also be sufficiently protected in order to enhance the quality of their life and ensure food security.

The AFGC therefore urges the adoption of the following considerations in establishing the modalities and disciplines on sensitive products and SPs, as well as SSG and SSM;

(a) The WTO agricultural negotiators should take into consideration the expectations of small-scale farmers to achieve food and livelihood security as well as to develop rural societies. In view of the increasing trend towards industrial concentration in the agricultural sector, cooperatives and farmer organizations must be empowered so that they can play a key role in the agri-food chain. In order to achieve this goal, like-minded farmers' organizations in both developed and developing countries should collaborate with each other so as to secure farmers' benefits.

(b) The modalities on SPs and SSM for developing countries should be designed to allow for flexibility in accordance with the real need of developing countries for rural development, food security and livelihood security, especially in terms of the significance of the respective special products to their agricultural production and food consumption, employment and food self-sufficiency. These modalities should be more flexible than those for sensitive products and SSG, and should cover broader products. Furthermore, objective and transparent criteria should be adopted in order to meet the interests of small-scale farmers as well as consumers.

(c) In considering the definition of, and criteria for, SPs and SSM, due consideration should be given to the characteristics relating to food and the agricultural sector of each country, including in particular, the national land and weather conditions and population density in such countries.

(d) Sufficient flexibility should be given to sensitive products. In designing modalities on sensitive products, coherent and equitable criteria should be developed taking due consideration of the situation of importing countries, including their low food self-sufficiency and trends in their consumption of these products. Furthermore, transparent and rules-based SSG should be maintained for both developed and developing countries.

(e) Rules on export credit and state trading exporters must be strictly disciplined in order to avoid negative effects on domestic agricultural production in importing countries. It should be recognized that the trading practices of these exporting groups are often detrimental to the interests of small-scale family farmers in developing countries.

(f) The negotiators should take into account the expectations and concerns of small-scale farmers in countries waiting for WTO membership, since WTO membership will dramatically change their situation of imports and exports of agricultural products.