Press Release
May 7, 2008


Speaking as a panelist at the 16th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, Senator Edgardo Angara urged for fair trade for the developing world's poor farmers, arguing that current iniquitous practices have driven them to subsistence living and rendered many developing countries food insecure.

"In the early 1960s, we, developing countries, had an overall annual agricultural trade surplus of almost US$ 7 billion... [but] since the beginning of the 1990s, we have become net importers of food and have incurred deficits.[i] In Asia's developing countries, agricultural imports started exceeding exports by an average of 4 percent since 1994," Angara pointed out.

"The implications of such dependence on food imports are staggering. It has affected our ability to pay for imports; it has decreased our local production of food; it has brought incomes, especially of farmers, down; and it has stunted our nutritional status," Angara said.

In order to give developing countries a level playing field when it comes to trade in agriculture and rectify the current trade imbalance, Angara pushed for the following measures:

1. Accelerate the elimination of export subsidies and reduction of domestic subsidies of rich countries;
2. Cut agricultural tariffs and decrease tariff escalation;
3. Exempt developing countries' special products from tariff cuts;
4. Establish Special Safeguard Mechanisms in developing countries; and
5. Ensure that legitimate measures are not used as technical barriers to trade

Accelerate the elimination of export subsidies and reduction of domestic subsidies of rich countries "Export subsidies and domestic subsidies are highly distorting. They make global prices of agricultural products artificially low compared to what it actually costs to make them, and this is a gargantuan problem because we in the developing world cannot afford to provide the same subsidies that governments in developed countries provide their farmers," said Angara .

"The total subsidy to agriculture in 2005 in OECD countries (the rich countries' club) amounted to $385 billion, more than double the Philippines ' gross national product (GNP) last year, and over $1 billion a day," Angara said.

"These subsidies have decreased if not wiped out the livelihood of developing-country farmers, particularly poor farmers in the Asia-Pacific region," Angara said.

Cut agricultural tariffs; provide Special Products; and institute Special Safeguard Mechanisms "Developing countries should not be asked to open their markets in a way that threatens our food security and the livelihood of our 1.3 billion farmers [in developing countries], and developed countries should recognize that," Angara said.

In this light, Angara pushed for lower tariff cuts, guided by the proportionality principle, as mandated by the July Framework -- a framework on Agriculture Agreements during the Doha Development Round that would have granted greater market access for developing countries' goods.

He also recommended that an appropriate number of tariff lines should be designated as Special Products, and that these should be exempt from tariff cuts without the need for compensation. Special products are products crucial to a developing country's economy and welfare, determined based on the criteria of food security, livelihood security, and rural development.

"Aside from this, developing countries should have the right to recourse to a Special Safeguard Mechanism. This would protect us from surges of cheap imports of agricultural products and price declines," Angara said.

Ensure that legitimate measures are not used as technical barriers to trade

"Numerous countries use blunt quarantine instruments that excessively restrict imports well beyond what is necessary for protecting the health of their plants and animals. The levels of protection involved are in some cases equivalent to tariffs of more than 100 per cent,[ii]" Angara said.

"Currently, each country sets its own standards and does its own assessment -- thus effectively acting as prosecutor-judge-and-jury," said Angara .

"This is unacceptable. To ensure that legitimate measures are not used as technical barriers to trade, an international tribunal must be set up to objectively ascertain whether or not such technical measures are indeed legitimate," Angara said.

Lastly, Angara called on developed countries to "demonstrate an enlightened self-interest by displaying a genuine willingness to take into serious account the interests of developing countries, especially the poor countries."

"They should show good faith by honoring their commitments to do away with trade-distorting practices such as export and domestic subsidies," Angara said.

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