The subject

The impact of the agricultural trade policies on developing countries


As world attention was absorbed by the war in Iraq last March, another international battle raged on, little noticed. Nations from all across the globe were deadlocked in an acrimonious conflict over trade in the world's most precious commodity - food.

Agricultural trade pits wealthy countries against poor countries and influential farmers' lobbies against consumers and taxpayers. March 31 was the deadline for World Trade Organization (WTO) members to reach an agreement on a framework for the agricultural trade negotiations, currently one of the most critical and delicate topics in the effort to advance progress in opening up the global marketplace.

These negotiations touch the lives of people from Iowa to Australia, and all the industrialized world's farmers in between. Above and beyond, the fates of hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers and poor consumers in developing countries struggling to survive on a dollar or two of income a day hang in the balance.

While international attention was diverted towards Iraq, the talks failed and the deadline was missed. Now with the war over, the world's eyes are looking towards the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico from September 10 to 14. Reforming agricultural trade will be front and center on the meeting's agenda.

Total support to agriculture in OECD countries amounted to US$311 billion in 2001, or about US$850 million per day, dwarfing the amount those same countries give in development assistance. However, these statistics obscure the real-life human impact of trade-distorting measures, which can be seen by visiting small farms in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Harrison Amukoyi's farm is perched on a hillside in western Kenya. On less than two acres of land, he raises several crops and a dairy cow. To sell milk, Harrison and his neighbors must compete with industrialized countries that dump their subsidized milk on local markets, depressing prices for Kenyan farmers. This unfair contest appears in countless guises through-out the developing world, intensifying conditions of poverty

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