26 November 1999

Developing nations require fairer deal

TRADE-DISTORTING policies adopted by industrialised countries to protect their markets are unacceptable, says one expert.

Developing countries must push for a fairer deal in the next round of World Trade Organisation talks, says Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director general of the US-based International Food Policy Research Insititute.

At the recent Institute of Agri-cultural Management conference in Gloucester, Dr Pinstrup-Andersen said agriculture was expected to play a significant role in the talks.

"The outcome could significantly influence food production and trading systems for years to come," he said. "To gain, developing countries must participate effectively."

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimated that developing countries could export $700bn (£437bn) more a year by 2005 if industrial countries opened their markets, said Dr Pinstrup-Andersen.

Imports were also expected to rocket in developing countries in the years to 2020, he added. By then, the worlds population was projected to climb 30% to 7.5bn, with nearly all that increase occurring in the developing world.

That, coupled with rapid urbanisation and increased income, would result in a significant increase in food demand in those areas. Meat consumption, said Mr Pinstrup Andersen, was forecast to double by 2020 to 190m tonnes, while industrialised nations would need just 25% more, at 122m tonnes.

To cope with that, developing countries would use 445m tonnes of feed grain, twice the 1995 level. Demand for human consumption cereals would increase 40% to just over 1bn tonnes, he added.

Although production in those areas would increase, it would still fall short of need. He expected cereal imports to almost double to 192m tonnes by 2020 and meat imports to jump eight-fold to 6.6m tonnes.

In the previous Uruguay round, many developing countries liberalised foreign trade in food and agricultural commodities, he said. "Unfortunately, this has not been matched by Europe, the US or Japan. In fact, access to agricultural markets is still more highly protected than in any other traded goods."

Import tariffs

In that round, import tariffs and export subsidies in the industrial world should have been cut by 36% in the five years to 2000. But tariffs which truly affected world trade, including those for butter, sugar, beef and wheat, remained relatively untouched.

The persistent use of export subsidies hurt competitive exporters and other countries trying to develop domestic sectors, said Dr Pinstrup-Andersen. "The EU accounted for nearly 84% of the $7.6bn (£4.75bn) of export subsidies reported to the WTO in 1995 and roughly the same share in 1996."

Severe restrictions imposed by the EU on biotechnology could also affect food security and trade prospects, he said.

"Developing countries cannot expect scientific or financial support from countries where genetically modified food is considered too risky." Nor would they be able to export such material to countries operating a ban.

By invoking such measures, the EU was likely to stir trade disputes, making biotechnology one of the key issues to be discussed in the upcoming WTO round, he said. &#42

Demand for feed grains and cereals for human consumption are set to increase dramatically in developing countries over the next 20 years. Although production will increase, it will not keep up with demand.