NEWS from
The International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade


DATE: December 1, 1999
CONTACT: Peter Lacy (202)328-5056

IPC Calls for Substantial Agricultural Policy Reform in the 1999 WTO Round

Seattle, USA -- The opportunity is at hand to move ahead positively to free agricultural and food products from trade restrictions that leave people hungrier and poorer. The International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade (IPC) believes that the global agricultural sector can meet the demand for food that will double in the next thirty years, and that low income countries can reduce hunger and export more food. However, improving global food security will require policy changes in developed and developing countries that are focused on a more open global trading system.

An abundant, accessible, affordable food supply of increasing quality, variety and reliability requires ever greater efficiency in the world’s agri-food system. This cannot be achieved without continued trade liberalization. The membership of the IPC urges world leaders gathering in Seattle to use this Round of WTO Negotiations to respond to the needs of the global food system.

The IPC is an independent group of leaders in food and agriculture from over 20 developed and developing countries, with extensive experience in farming, agribusiness, government and academia. It is dedicated to developing and advocating policies that support an efficient and open global food and agricultural system – one that promotes the production and distribution of food supplies adequate to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, while supporting sound environmental standards.

Economic and technological changes affecting world agriculture have created a global food system. The IPC argues that this system offers great promise to enhance food security, stimulate economic development, increase the reliability, efficiency and environmental soundness of global agriculture and meet new qualitative demands on the food system – but only if it develops in an open, market-based manner.

The Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture concluded in 1993 provided significant benefits to global well-being by bringing agricultural trade under the rules of the multilateral trading system and reducing barriers to agricultural and food trade. Moreover, that agreement established a framework for pursuing further reductions in the barriers to trade in agriculture and processed products, and for supporting agriculture and rural economies in ways that are less trade restrictive. The IPC believes that non-trade concerns regarding the environment, rural society and other issues, which are shared by developed and developing countries, food exporters and importers alike, should be addressed in the 1999 WTO negotiations, but in ways which do not distort trade.

The IPC therefore offers the following recommendations for the negotiations to be launched in Seattle:

  1. Market Access – Tariffs on many agricultural products (particularly for processed foods) remain high despite the reductions undertaken in the Uruguay Round. The IPC recommends more rapid reduction of higher tariffs, specifically addressing tariff peaks and tariff escalation, while bringing down all tariffs generally., starting from applied, not bound, levels. In addition, the IPC recommends expanding the guaranteed market access agreed to under the Uruguay Round by increasing the minimum access quotas by some percentage of domestic consumption per year.
  2. Export Competition – The IPC calls on the forthcoming negotiations to take decisive steps to eliminate export subsidies as soon as possible, or by the end of the implementation period. If this does not prove possible, a timetable for their elimination should be fixed. The IPC also believes the subsidy element in export credit and promotion programs should be included in any export subsidy reductions.
  3. Export Taxes, Licenses, Embargoes and Sanctions – The IPC recommends that export restrictions on food be disallowed and phased out on the same timetable as import tariffs and export refunds.
  4. Domestic Support – Progress in converting trade-distorting support for commodities into non-trade distorting support for farmers, rural areas and the environment must continue in the negotiations. The IPC recommends that environmental preservation and rural development goals be explicitly recognized as valid policies. Domestic policies that aim to promote healthy rural economies should continue to be possible. The IPC also recommends that the acceptable level of the Aggregate Measure of Support be made commodity-specific and not averaged across all commodities.
  5. State Trading Activities – State trading entities with special or exclusive rights to import are extensions of the market access problem. Similarly, state trading entities with special or exclusive rights to export are extensions of the export subsidy problem. The IPC believes that state trading entities with special or exclusive rights should be dismantled over time or, at the very least, Article XVII of the WTO should be re-interpreted so that they are not allowed to distort trade in any way.
  6. Sanitary and Phytosanitary Regulations -- It is imperative that government regulations covering the safety of food be scientifically based. The IPC believes that voluntary labeling practices that are based on verifiable attributes are the best means of informing consumers about how their food is grown and processed.
  7. The Importance of Biotechnology – The IPC believes that the ability of biotechnology to improve plants is a significant development in the field of plant science, one that promises major benefits to producers and consumers in developed and developing countries.
  8. Regional Trading Arrangements – This WTO Round can promote the growth of freer trade within regions by rigorously applying existing WTO rules to Free Trade Areas, ensuring that third parties are not adversely affected, and binding common external tariffs of FTAs. Priority should be given to the pursuit of freer trade on a multilateral basis, with attention given to involving all existing blocs and sectors.
  9. Scope of the Round – Finally, the IPC recommends that the 1999 round be a comprehensive round covering all sectors of the global economy. The timetable for negotiations needs to be limited, to prevent undue delays in reaching agreement and the implementation of desirable changes.

The IPC is an independent organization dedicated to developing policies that support an efficient and open global agricultural system. Its membership includes 35 leaders and experts from 20 developed and developing countries, with backgrounds in farming, business, government and academia. The IPC will be very active during the WTO Round and can be reached at the numbers listed above.