Agricultural Markets

WTO Agriculture Negotiations in the Post-Bali Work Programme: Issues of Interest to the EAC

Under the multilateral trading system, agriculture has been characterized for decades by policies that seriously distort trade and production. Such policies take the form of high tariff barriers, various domestic support measures through subsidies or market price support and export subsidies or other forms of export-related support. These trade distorting policies have a significant effect on agricultural producers in developing countries, and especially in the most vulnerable ones. Because of these anomalies, those countries cannot fully benefit from their comparative advantages, and their agricultural revenues cannot properly contribute to gross domestic production, employment, rural development or livelihood security. It is therefore critical that the current WTO negotiations deliver a favourable agriculture package that would contribute towards the development needs of developing countries and LDCs more so those dependent on the agricultural sector such as the EAC.

The 20th EAC Geneva Forum Meeting took place on January 16th, 2015 to deliberate on the above issues. Country updates notes (from EAC Member countries) of stakeholder perspectives on the WTO Agriculture negotiations, as well as a WTO issue note were the basis of the deliberations during the meeting.

The main points developed in the Country Update Notes on the subject, and presented during the Forum were: (i) an overview of agricultural trade in each EAC country, with recent trends of agricultural production and trade; (ii) public food stockholding programmes in place (where they exist) and the nature of the support provided; (iii) the main/important interests to be derived from WTO agriculture negotiations e.g. in relation to market access, safeguards for domestic production etc.; (iv) imports that are harming or likely to harm certain agriculture sectors and the preventive policy action required.

Through those papers, some recommendations were presented from different stakeholders to the negotiators in order to enhance the WTO agriculture negotiations and secure countries’ interests. EAC needs to be active in its participation in WTO agriculture negotiations regarding domestic support; market access; limited market openings; tariffs; public food stockholding; public subsidies; and competition. Indeed, enhanced and more informed participation of EAC in any trade reforms that lead to dismantling trade distorting measures, and preferential market access offered for LDCs could certainly boost country’s export.

The WTO issue note highlights the need to monitor the impact of rising level of domestic support mechanisms by the advanced developing countries. It recommends the need for appropriate rules and disciplines to be designed in the negotiations. In addition the paper calls for exploration of market access opportunities from non-traditional markets such as Asia, wherein the EAC countries would need to negotiate concurrently for favourable SPS, and food safety based measures that often hinder optimal utilization of such market access.

Delegates present acknowledged that there is need for further capacity building for negotiators to effectively participate in the agricultural negotiations, which are often technical in nature. It was also recalled that some time back EAC Delegates at the Expert level had mapped-out modalities for coordination of their limited resources in Geneva wherein they would share responsibilities in attending the various meetings and reports thereafter; these will be updated and shared with heads of delegations for approval.

Finally it was agreed that the issues for deliberation in the next forum meetings will be communicated through email, these could include an analysis of implications of Kenya’s positioning in Non-Agriculture Market Access negotiations on the other EAC member countries that are LDCs.