Historical archive

Norwegian perspectives - WTO and Agriculture

Historical archive

Published under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Publisher Landbruks- og matdepartementet

CUTS seminar on WTO - India, February 6th 2009

By: Minister of Agriculture and Food Lars Peder Brekk

Ladies and gentlemen,

When discussing the stalled negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, it is increasingly common to focus on a list of indispensable nations. Those that had not been paying attention before can have little doubt after last summer that India is firmly positioned high up on that list. It is therefore with great humility and with an inquiring mind that I take part in this seminar, after which I hope to better see the challenges ahead from an Indian perspective.

In my opinion, however, India’s relevance in the WTO negotiations on agriculture can not be understood, nor legitimised, merely from her status as an emerging economic great power. It is equally important to look at what India represents in these negotiations. For this round to succeed we must focus less on indispensable nations, and more on indispensable ideas.

I will focus on three such ideas today. One is almost resolved, one is on its way, and the third will be a vital component if we are to bring these negotiations to their conclusion.

In the ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, the members of the WTO agreed to eliminate export subsidies by 2013 as part of a Doha round agreement. Although the conclusion of the round has drawn out, Norway is prepared to maintain 2013 as the date for this elimination. With this commitment, the members moved closer to agreeing upon the indispensable idea that where our policies lead to imbalances, we shall not make those less fortunate carry the burden of our own excesses.

Another indispensible idea where progress has been made, is the notion that we offer more, and we demand less, in our treatment of Least Developed Countries. Norway has already gone further than the commitment from the Hong Kong ministerial where all developed countries pledged to provide duty and quota free market access for 97 per cent of imports from LDCs. Norway offers such market access for all products from 64 developing countries, and we hope others will follow our lead. But being offered the moon and the stars has little value for those without the means to get there. Aid for trade is one of several measures that need to be developed before this indispensible idea can bear fruit.

In my opinion what will make or break this round is whether we can share a third indispensible idea, namely that no country can be expected to sacrifice their agriculture or their food security on the altar of trade.  I have repeatedly stated to my constituencies in Norway the need for a successful outcome of the Doha round. At the same time, it has to be an agreement with a burden sharing that is perceived as fair. The solution to the global challenges of climate change, poverty reduction and food security cannot be to leave food production to a handful of powerful exporters. It is increasingly important, and acknowledged, that all countries should maintain an appropriate level of self sufficiency.

The 153 members of the WTO differ greatly in their level of development, their production capacity and climatic condition, their export orientation, and in the level of commitment already undertaken. Fair and equal treatment for such a variety of members can only be achieved by differentiated commitments. Sometimes this needs to result in differentiated cuts, sometimes in exemptions, and sometimes in longer implementation periods. 

In Geneva, Norway is sometimes confronted by those who feel we are benefitting from a vast number of flexibilities that are eroding the benefits from the negotiations.  My response to this is that it is in fact those flexibilities that can enable an ambitious result to the round. Norway’s climatic conditions and high cost levels make us more vulnerable to tariff and subsidy cuts than most other developed countries. But we have not held back progress on the negotiations by insisting on a lowest common denominator approach. Instead, we have indicated the few areas where the same cuts as the European Union or the United States would mean an end to a viable agricultural sector in Norway. I believe this is in keeping with this last indispensable idea, and is precisely the path we need to continue on if we are to succeed with this round.

That is why we have said that we can discuss a tariff cap, but not for our sensitive products and a limited number of non-sensitive products.
That is why we insist that we can not let arbitrary designs decide what products may or may not be designated as sensitive products.

That is also why we listen attentively when India or other WTO members explain their difficulties – with the SSM, with Special Products, or in other areas of the negotiations.

In the preamble to the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture, the members noted that “commitments under the reform programme should be made in an equitable way among all Members, having regard to non-trade concerns, including food security and the need to protect the environment, having regard to the agreement that special and differential treatment for developing countries is an integral element of the negotiations, and taking into account the possible negative effects of the implementation of the reform programme on least-developed and net food-importing developing countries…”

So you see, these indispensable ideas that I have mentioned before do not have to be invented in the WTO. They merely need to be realised.

Thank you very much.