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Colección: Trends for a common future
Autor: Sidney Weintraub
Título: Technical Cooperation Needs for Hemispheric trade Negotiations

2. Agriculture

Liberalizing trade in agriculture has been less successful than trade liberalization in just about any other sector since the formation of the GATT after World War II. The tariffication of agricultural protection in the Uruguay Round, even though rates are generally high, was an important step in that it introduced more transparency in protection than had existed before. Nevertheless, agriculture is a sector replete with domestic support programs that lead to restrictions of competitive imports, the use of tariff quotas and seasonal import duties to limit internal competition, and the widespread use of export subsidies by developed countries that have the means to afford these.

Sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) to protect consumers are an essential ingredient in the agricultural field but these, like technical standards generally, are subject to abuse for protectionist purposes. Various techniques for mutual recognition should be part of the negotiations in this sector as well as in other sectors. Technical help for working these out will probably be essential. This is an area that separates most negotiators from the technical experts and the training priority should probably focus on the technical personnel and then on facilitating the communication between these experts and the negotiators.

One other point that deserves emphasis is the great overlap between the Negotiating Group on Agriculture (NGAG) and the NGMA. The two negotiating groups have established a pattern of mutual briefings for such aspects as customs procedures, data collection, tariffs and nontariff measures, and safeguards. The work of the NGAG also overlaps to a great extent with that dealing with subsidies, antidumping, and countervailing duties.

Apart from SPS, the NGAG must deal with other technical issues not always evident to negotiators who are not steeped in domestic agricultural policies and international trade in this sector. Seasonal duties, already mentioned, are unique to this sector and tariff quotas are more prevalent than in trade in other sectors. Export subsidies, which have largely been eliminated in other sectors, remain common in agriculture. One of the negotiating objectives of developing countries in the FTAA negotiations is to eliminate export subsidies in agricultural trade in the hemisphere and keep out subsidized imports from outside the region. Trade-distorting measures are more extensive in agriculture than in other sectors and the full extent of these measures is not evident. The search for transparency is particularly important in agricultural trade. Other international organizations have worked out agricultural producer subsidy equivalents (the OECD, for example), and this information should be available to the NGAG. All these points bring out how much the NGAG will have to look to the Tripartite Committee for background information.

While it does not need repeating under each negotiating group, key TC needs for the overall conduct of the negotiations are particularly relevant in this sector because of the great importance of agriculture in the life of the small and less-developed economies in the hemisphere and in their exports. These needs include TC in data gathering and management, in techniques to analyze the significance of trade liberalization, and in penetrating the veil of complexity that typifies agricultural trade.

TC needs are particularly relevant to understand the sanitary and phytosanitary standards of each hemispheric country, particularly the more developed ones. The TC needs undoubtedly vary as between countries; those with substantial expertise in agriculture and SPS still need information on the practices in their major export markets, and those with only rudimentary knowledge of the intricacies of agricultural trade need help in this area as well. It may be that experts from Latin American countries with more advanced economies, and hence more experience in dealing in agricultural export markets, would be the best providers of technical assistance to the technical people from smaller economies.