Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Phase 1:

Developing countries

Developing countries are active in agriculture negotiations and several groups have put their names to negotiating proposals. In general, they reflect a diverse range of interests in the debate, and the distinctions are not always clear.

For example, the Cairns Group — which favours much greater liberalization in agricultural trade — is an alliance that cuts across the developed-developing country boundaries. Fourteen of its 17 members are developing countries. Like most WTO members, the Cairns Group would also like to see developing countries given some kind of “special and differential” treatment to take account of their needs.

Several developing countries have submitted proposals that would lead to clearly separate rules for developed and developing countries. Some proposals are jointly sponsored, the one with the most sponsors coming from the African Group. Three proposals come from a group of 11 or 12 developing countries. Another is from WTO members from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), four of whom are also in the Cairns Group. There are also proposals from small island developing states, Caricom, and individual member governments such as Swaziland, Mali, India, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and Namibia.

Some countries say WTO arrangements should be more flexible so that developing countries can support and protect their agricultural and rural development and ensure the livelihoods of their large agrarian populations whose farming is quite different from the scale and methods in developing countries.

They argue, for example, that subsidies and protection are needed to ensure food security, to support small scale farming, to make up for a lack of capital, or to prevent the rural poor from migrating into already over-congested cities. India’s and Nigeria’s proposals are among those that emphasize food security issues for developing countries.

At the same time, some developing countries make a clear distinction between their needs and what they consider to be the desire of much richer countries to spend large amounts subsidizing agriculture at the expense of poorer countries.

Many developing countries complain that their exports still face high tariffs and other barriers in developed countries’ markets and that their attempts to develop processing industries are hampered by tariff escalation (higher import duties on processed products compared to raw materials). They want to see substantial cuts in these barriers.

On the other hand, some smaller developing countries have expressed concerns about import barriers in developed countries falling too fast. They say they depend on a few basic commodities that currently need preferential treatment (such as duty-free trade) in order to preserve the value of their access to richer countries’ markets. If normal tariffs fall too fast, their preferential treatment is eroded, they say. Some developing countries see this situation as almost permanent. Others, such as Caricom, view it as a transition, and are calling for binding commitments on technical and financial assistance to help them adjust, including the creation of a technical assistance fund for the purpose.

Some developed and developing countries have argued that all developing countries should participate in liberalization and integration into world markets, even if the terms are more relaxed. (In the 1986–94 Uruguay Round negotiations, participants agreed that the rules and disciplines to be negotiated would be equally applied to all member governments.)

WTO statistics show that developing countries as a whole have seen a significant increase in agricultural exports. Agricultural trade rose globally by nearly $100bn between 1993 and 1998. Of this, developing countries’ exports rose by around $47bn — from $120bn to $167bn in the period. Their share of world agricultural exports increased from 40.1% to 42.4%. But within the group, some individual developing countries have seen their agricultural trade balance deteriorate — their imports have risen faster than their exports. (For more details, see WTO Secretariat background paper “Agricultural Trade Performance by Developing Countries, 1990–98” G/AG/NG/S/6 downloadable here)


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Entire proposals or proposals with significant sections specifically on developing countries submitted in Phase 1
(several other proposals also contain items on developing countries)

  • 11 developing countries: special and differential treatment and a development box G/AG/NG/W/13
  • ASEAN: special and differential treatment for developing countries in world agricultural trade G/AG/NG/W/55
  • Swaziland: market access under special and differential treatment for small developing countries G/AG/NG/W/95
  • Mauritius: proposal G/AG/NG/W96
  • Small island developing states: proposal G/AG/NG/W/97
  • Mali: proposal G/AG/NG/W/99
  • Caricom: proposal G/AG/NG/W/100
  • India: proposal G/AG/NG/W/102
  • Morocco: proposal G/AG/NG/W/105
  • Turkey: proposal G/AG/NG/W/106
  • Egypt: proposal G/AG/NG/W/107
  • Nigeria: proposal G/AG/NG/W/130
  • Congo, Dem Rep: proposal G/NG/W/135
  • Kenya: proposal G/AG/NG/W/136
  • Senegal: preliminary positions G/AG/NG/W/137
  • Mexico: proposal G/AG/NG/W/138
  • Jordan: proposal G/AG/NG/W/140
  • African Group: joint proposal G/AG/NG/W/142
  • Namibia: proposal G/AG/NG/W/143


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Decision on net food-importing developing countries 

A number of developing countries that depend on imports for their food supply are also concerned about possible rises in world food prices as a result of reductions in richer countries’ subsidies. Although they accepted that higher prices can benefit farmers and increase domestic production, they feel that their concerns about food imports need to be addressed more effectively.

The WTO agreements include a Decision on the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net-Food Importing Developing Countries. As a result of this decision the Food Aid Convention was recently renegotiated and concluded in July 1999 in the International Grains Council. The WTO Committee on Agriculture also regularly reviews actions within the framework of the decision, in such areas as technical and financial assistance provided by industrialized countries to least-developed and net-food importing countries to assist in improving their agricultural productivity and infrastructure.


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Proposals emphasizing positions on this submitted in Phase 1

  • Small island developing states: proposal G/AG/NG/W/97
  • Egypt: proposal G/AG/NG/W/107
  • Nigeria: proposal G/AG/NG/W/130
  • Kenya: proposal G/AG/NG/W/136
  • Senegal: preliminary positions G/AG/NG/W/137
  • Mercosur, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Malaysia: export credits G/AG/NG/W/139
  • African Group: joint proposal G/AG/NG/W/142


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The Cairns Group
Current membership:

Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Uruguay.