Monday, November 9, 2009

Senegal: Interview with a farmer -- Economic Justice


Title: Senegal: Interview with a farmer
Author: Interview, Isolda Agazzi, Geneva
Category: Economic Justice
Date: 11/9/2009
Source: IPS
Source Website:

African Charter Article# 20: All peoples shall have the right to existence and self determination and the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination.

Summary & Comment: This West African Farmer argues that developed countries will not eliminate export subsidies by 2013, as agreed at the World Trade Organisation's ministerial conference in Hong Kong. And they will not reduce their trade-distorting domestic support either! They will just shift notifications between the amber, blue, and green boxes. DN

"One can't work 18 hours a day and still be poor"
- Isolda Agazzi interviews Babacar Ndao, a West African farmer

Given the billions of dollars and euros that the U.S. and EU spend on trade-distorting support measures and the intractable lobby groups demanding these subsidies, these rich states' promises to reduce such amounts will come to nought. It makes no sense for poor African states to allow these goods to flood their markets. This is the view of Babacar Ndao, a farmer from Senegal and a member of the West African Network of Farmers' Organisations and Agricultural Producers, known by its French acronym ROPPA. He was in Geneva recently at the invitation of Our World Is Not For Sale's agriculture working group.

Our World Is Not For Sale is a loose grouping of non-governmental organisations, activists and social movements "fighting the current model of corporate globalisation embodied in the global trading system". Like the other invited farmers from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, Ndao is critical of the text presented in December 2008 by Ambassador Crawford Falconer which still constitutes the basis of the Doha Round talks on agriculture. Ndao argues that developed countries will not eliminate export subsidies by 2013, as agreed at the World Trade Organisation's ministerial conference in Hong Kong. Neither will they reduce their trade-distorting domestic support. Instead, they have become skilful in shifting notifications between the so-called amber, blue and green boxes.

  • The "amber box" contains all domestic support measures considered to distort production and trade and for which only minimal ("de minimis") supports are allowed.
  • The "blue box" is like the amber box but with conditions attached that are designed to reduce distortion. At present it has no limits on spending.
  • The "green box" contains subsidies that don't distort trade, or at most cause minimal distortion.

Isolda Agazzi interviewed a disillusioned Ndao for whom these boxes are nothing but Russian dolls with which rich countries hide their trade-distorting practices.

IPS: What do you expect from the Doha Round?

Babacar Ndao (BN): The text is not satisfactory because the protection of agricultural goods is weak. Rich countries, like the European Union and the U.S., will never be able to respect their commitments to reduce subsidies and will just shift support between boxes. The support of product-specific de minimis, such as subsidies for food and bio fuels, has not been taken into consideration by the chair of the agricultural committee (currently ambassador David Walker from New Zealand). According to the de minimis clause, developed countries are allowed to exclude five percent of product-specific and nonproduct-specific support from the amber box while developing countries can exclude 10 percent of the same.

The U.S. will never be able to meet its offer to reduce by 70 percent its overall trade-distorting domestic support. This support was at 28 billion dollars in 2007 but only 8,5 billions were notified by Washington at the WTO. As for the EU that is supposed to cut its overall trade-distorting domestic support by 80 percent, its subsidies amounted to 72,9 billion euros in 2005 but Brussels notified only 42,1 billions. The gap between the notified subsidies and the real ones is huge, particularly for the EU, which has inscribed its single farm payment regime of 14,7 billion euros in the green box. (The single farm payment, introduced by the EU in the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy, separates the aid received by farmers from the amount of production.)

But, in March 2005, the WTO appellate body in the cotton case presented by Brazil had ruled that the fixed payments by the U.S. cannot be put into the green box because farmers don't have the right to use those payments to produce fruit and vegetables. In the EU they are not allowed to use this money to produce fruits, vegetables, milk, sugar (a production quota runs until 2015) and wine, and there are ceilings on cotton and tobacco. This all shows that the US and the EU will never be able to respect their offers. We are asked to open up our markets, but the protection we are granted in return is very weak.

IPS: Do you have another example?

BN: Yes, cotton. The December text has calculated that internal subsidies to cotton must be reduced to 42 million dollars per year in the U.S.. But subsidies for exported cotton, only, were already 2, 2 billion dollars! This problem is without a solution. And if cotton is not solved, then it doesn't make any sense for us to conclude the Doha Round. We met with senior representatives of the Cotton Four countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad) and found that cotton is more of a priority for them because they speak in the name of the 36 African cotton-exporting countries.

The Doha Round will strengthen the power of multinational corporations. Regulating the market and managing supply is very important, but the current WTO rules go in the opposite direction. Many economists recognise that the food crisis was generated by the policies dictated by the WTO. If you produce a lot, then prices drop. If you don't produce enough, then your market is invaded with subsidised products.

IPS: But the Doha Round foresees important steps, like the elimination of
export subsidies by 2013.

BN: It is a bluff! Developed countries will not be able to eliminate export subsidies and to reduce domestic trade-distorting ones. Even if they allowed developing countries to maintain tariffs on special products - which would represent 20 percent of tariff lines - it will never compensate for the losses generated by cutting tariffs. And currently tariffs are already so low that, whatever the special products, they will never compensate for the difference.

IPS: Are your concerns shared by the governmental delegations you met in

BN: We have the same point of view as African governments. The Agriculture Agreement (the current WTO agreement that the Doha Round is supposed to reform in a more development-balanced way) has to be fully revised and we must be allowed tariffs to protect our markets. One example is ECOWAS (the Economic Community of Western African States). We want to protect our regional market to make food sovereignty a reality. But to do so, we need three measures:

  • revision of the Agriculture Agreement;
  • a solution to price volatility by managing supply; and
  • creating rules for global competition.

One can no longer ignore the exaggerated market power of multinational corporations. American cotton producers, who generally vote for the Democrats, will not accept the reductions in subsidies. The EU says that it may be attacked by parliament if it touches the subsidies on cream and milk. Since lowering these subsidies becomes impossible, then they should not push for poor countries to lower theirs and have their markets flooded with subsidised imports.

IPS: So, do you want to take agriculture out of the WTO?

BN: What we want are fair competition rules. If one takes agriculture out of the WTO, then there still need to be rules somewhere. It is not ideological, even though liberalism has shown its limits. It's not about being leftist or rightist. Some 65 percent of ECOWAS's population – 270 million people - live on agriculture. In the EU, it is only 2,8 percent of the population. ROPPA asks for fair rules for competition. The farmers' organisations from all continents ask for the same, be it within or outside the WTO. One cannot work 18 hours a day and still be poor.

IPS: But can you really put all developing countries in the same basket?
The Doha Round foresees flexibilities and least developed countries
won't have to cut any tariffs.

BN: ROPPA is a sub-regional organisation that fights for all farmers and fishers in West Africa. In the ECOWAS, we want to build our own regional market with trade preferences, like others have done. We have three non-LDCs in West Africa (Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria). If a country's market is invaded (because of low tariffs) by subsidised products, all the region will be invaded at the same time because we have a common external tariff.

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