It is an obvious truism that how you feel about something is often a result of where you are looking from. Below I post the example of two contrasting views concerning proposed Doha round changes to agricultural tarrifs and farm subsidies, one from Japan and the other from India. Those who are opposed to globalisation in itself will doubtless find here yet more material for criticism. Those, like me, who are convinced of its potential benefits, can and should note that the process in reality is not unproblematic. India has an enormous problem of rural poverty that cannot simply be waived away overnight. It is, however, extremely encouraging to find that the need for change is accepted in principle, and that the Indian economy is becoming more and more open. The European and Japanese case is rather different, tarrifs and subsidies have been used for far too long as a means to preserve activities which often have little economic (but plenty of political) rationale. Change will come, but it is a pity that in the richer economies, where the possibility of gradual change has long existed, things were not resolved earlier. Now the process may be more painful since - on this and many other fronts - reforms will be introduced against a far less favourable economic backdrop.
Thousands of Japanese farmers rallied Saturday to stop ministers huddled at a World Trade Organization meeting in Tokyo from approving a proposal to slash tariffs. "We are going to send a clear message to the ministers that they must protect Japanese farms,'' Kazuyoshi Fujita who represents agricultural and consumer groups told a crowd of about 8,000 people gathered at a Tokyo park. "Without food, how can people live? Without rice farming, how can Japan survive?'' Delegates from the WTO and 22 member economies are meeting in Tokyo to try to hammer out an agreement on agricultural talks by the end of March, as part of the latest round of WTO global trade talks that began in Doha, Qatar in 2001. The talks Saturday focused on a proposal from former Hong Kong Trade Ambassador Stuart Harbinson, the chair of the WTO farm negotiations, to reduce tariffs by an average 60 percent in five years, reduce subsidies and raise import quotas, officials said. Farmers say Harbinson's proposal would be devastating for Japanese agriculture, which is far more expensive than American agribusiness and the rest of Asia. Japan, which imports 60 percent of its food, protects its rice farms with a 490 percent tariff on foreign rice. "We are fighting hard against the proposal because Japanese farms will be destroyed,'' 58-year-old farmer Yasuhiko Matsunaga said standing among colorful banners that said, "Rice is No. 1.''
Source: The Star Online
The World Trade Organisation draft proposal on agriculture have come as a shot in the arm for developing countries with many of those attending the mini-ministerial in Japan terming it a small victory, and indicating that it addressed some of their long standing objections related to opening up the farm sector. The latest draft by the chairman of the WTO Committee on agriculture Stuart Harbinson proposed that the developing countries could gradually cut customs duty on agri-products over a negotiated period, and continue with other measures of state subsidy and extraordinary support. But it has also come as something of a jolt to many of the developed countries, including Japan and European Union, which have opposed any drastic reduction of farm subsidy. Delegates from developing countries, including those from India, Kenya and Nigeria said that the outcome could be viewed as a small victory for the strong stand taken by the developing countries at Doha Ministerial gathering against opening up of their agri-market without addressing the problem of the prevailing social conditions. Though India welcomed the draft modalities giving concessions on the state subsidy and special product exemption front, it indicated it would oppose the reduction in the tariff structure as proposed within a period of 10 years, official sources said. The developing countries consider the draft as an important document as it has attempted to take on board the differing views of three major trading blocks - CAIRNS, EU and the developing countries - over the contentious issue of market access in agriculture sector. The CAIRNS countries - including US, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand and Canada - being agri-export countries, advocate free market access. Many of these countries have hidden subsidies to boost their agriculture sector. The EU, which gives huge subsidies to the agriculture sector, supports market access but does not agree to link this to a reduction in subsidy. Developing countries fear that their markets will be flooded with products from other countries, which are cheap due to massive state support, thus causing unrest and social tension among the population dependent on this for their livelihood. Explaining the Indian position, the official said 65 per cent of the Indian population was dependent on agriculture and the government views this sector as a means to eliminate rural poverty.Moreover, the total subsidy given by the government through smaller supports in electricity tariff, fertiliser prices and transportations was lower than the WTO benchmark on subsidy. Viewed in this backdrop, the draft modalities proposed by the WTO Committee on Agriculture come at an opportune time. India said that its interests in some key areas had been further protected by the proposition in the draft under the Special Product Exemption category where it could maintain its present tariff.