Mr. Humayun Akhtar Khan proposes the
“way forward” to break current impasse in
agricultural negotiations

The Commerce Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Humayun Akhtar Khan, speaking at the G 33 Ministerial meeting in Jakarta on the 20th and 21st of March reminded all present that the end game was near and the time was ripe to take the necessary decisions to achieve a fair and balanced outcome in agriculture. The G33 is an alliance of a large number of developing countries, including LDCs, which have joined efforts to guarantee that the food security, livelihood security and rural development concerns of the developing countries are put at the centre of the discussions on agriculture at the WTO.

He warned all present, particularly developing countries, about the cost of failure should the Doha round fail. He lauded the efforts of the Indonesians to seek collective political decision on important aspects of Special Products such as indicators, numbers and treatment and for Special Safeguard Mechanism product coverage, triggers and remedies.

The Minister reiterated the importance of agriculture for Pakistan and that it provided for about 44% of employment and about 23% of GDP. He questioned the real meaning of the terms food security, livelihood security and rural development and whether developing and least developed members could ensure an adequate and stable food supply, through raising tariffs and introducing other barriers. He reiterated his call for realism in demands by the G-33 if developed countries were to take us seriously in their offers.

Highlighting the fact that despite high subsidies by developed world, south-south trade for agriculture and food products has been one of the fastest growing sectors. The Minister predicted that it would only better the situation if ambitious cuts were achieved in domestic subsidies and tariffs to achieve enhanced market access. He then posed the question of the “realistic way forward” and presented Pakistan’s proposal for Special Products. It was arrived at by applying data based on the actual latest agricultural census of Pakistan for the key indicators already identified by G33 members. The proposal had been discussed at length by various delegates in Geneva and in respective capitals. Our feed-back suggested that most WTO members had favorably received this proposal.

He then gave the details of the proposal on Special Products: for the selection of indicators, we had proposed condensing the number from 24 to 10. This not only avoids duplication but also effectively refutes the criticism that the G-33 has not been serious with its proposal by using so many indicators. Moreover some technical experts and senior officials have also agreed to reduce the number of indicators to 12. Once there was an agreement on 10 or 12 indicators, one could be more specific and assign numerical values to the indicators i.e. their share in food intake, income, cultivated area etc, thus giving numbers to indicate the importance of any commodity. After assigning numerical values, developing countries can decide on a benchmark score for eligibility of commodities as Special Products. On the treatment issue, a simpler approach is proposed. The higher the number of Special Products, the lower the deviation permitted from the formula tariff cut and vice versa. This would encourage member countries to designate only those commodities as Special Products which genuinely merit being designated.

Regarding the Special Safeguard Mechanism, he pronounced his support for the implementation of this mechanism to offset any negative effects of tariff reductions. By proposing a constructive approach for Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanism, the major agriculture subsidizers could be pressurized to also present constructive proposals on subsidies as the status quo did not suit the interests of the developing world.

He rounded off by reminding all present about the value of the present window of opportunity and fallouts associated with a failure.