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Oxfam asks India to protect farmers from WTO proposals

Monday 11 April 2005

New Delhi, April. 11 (UNI): India should protect its farmers and ensure food security for millions by firmly insisting on "Special Product" window in the ensuing WTO negotiations on agriculture, an Oxfam International paper has said.

"Rich countries are forcing poor ones to open their markets and then dumping excess agricultural produce on them, undermining poor farmers’ livelihoods", Oxfam’s paper "Kicking down the door" said.

The paper, released here today said, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is "the new battleground where poor countries are being forced to reduce tariffs on imports. The moves could increase their vulnerability, destroy farming communities, threaten food security and plunge millions into deeper poverty", the paper said.

According to Oxfam, India must be careful while accepting the Tariff Reduction Formula, which could be the different tier Harbinson Formula.

There should be a window of ’Special Product’ available to it, through which the country could have flexible tariff regime for a host of products, which are of interest to its farmers and food security.

It said that the poor countries were promised that vital food crops would be exempt from the WTO cuts, but rich nations are now trying to water down this promise. The US, for example, has declared that it would accept only a "very limited number" of exemptions.

The world rice trade shows the grave risk to poor farmers.

Each year, US spends 1.3 billion dollar in subsidies to support a rice crop that costs 1.8 billion dollar to grow. "These subsidies make possible the dumping of 4.7 million tonnes of rice on world markets at 34 per cent below the cost of production, hurting poor countries".

The Oxfam paper demanded that the developing countries be allowed to use policies that allow them to develop the fragile farming sector.

The US rice would not be competitive without massive state subsidies. "It is scandalous that poor countries are forced to compete with the US. Worse still, that they are denied the opportunity to defend themselves from dumping".

Rice is not the only commodity threatened by the WTO proposals. Oxfam estimates that developing countries also risk tariff cuts on imports of poultry (18 countries), milk powder (14 countries), sugar (13 countries), soybeans (13 countries), maize (seven countries) and wheat (six countries), with potentially devastating effects for these sectors.

"Beyond, the WTO, rich countries continue to use the World Bank, the IMF and regional trade agreements to bully developing countries to open their markets prematurely. To make matters worse, the rich world has slashed agricultural aid by more than two-thirds in the past 18 years", the paper said.

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