In introducing the theme of the evening, René Carron, President of Crédit Agricole, called attention to the basic orientation of FARM and its Founders, that is, agricultural and rural development that is fair and even, especially in subsaharan Africa, and based on the principle that development in one place should not be a barrier to growth somewhere else. On the contrary, FARM works toward co-responsibility by building relations between developing countries on one hand and large international firms on the other, with the implication that developing countries can be responsible for their priorities and choices.
This shared vision was reaffirmed by the Founders and Friends of FARM as they came together to form and to fund the Foundation.
As for this debate, the purpose was to develop some clear views and facts on questions of importance to the current WTO negotiations as well as on the long term impact of an agreement.
Michel Petit, former director of agriculture at the World Bank, spoke about the process of liberalising agricultural trade. He summarised the chronology of these negotiations, recalling their slow and complex development starting from the creation of the GATT after WWII, which were little concerned with agriculture. Agricultural questions grew in importance after the beginning of the Uruguay Round in 1986, which was followed by reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy in 1992, and by the Marrakech Agreement in 1994 which closed the Uruguay Round and provided for the creation of the WTO. In 1996, the WTO was founded and a commitment made to liberalise agricultural trade. 1999 saw the impasse of the ministerial conference at Seattle, followed by a new round of talks launched at Doha in 2001, leading to the Cancun Conference in 2003, where the attempt to have agriculture recognised as a multi-functional activity was aborted. From Cancun sprang the G20, a group created and led by Brazil, Argentina, China, and India to bring pressure to bear on US and EU policies of domestic price supports and export subsidies for agricultural goods.
Since then, 32 of the 148 WTO member countries gathered in Geneva in July 2004 in an attempt to save the Doha Round and adopted a series of framework agreements, in particular for agriculture, known as the "July package". These attempts at compromise made no further progress during July 2005 talks in Geneva, and the issues involved were slated for treatment at the ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December of 2005.
Michel Petit underlined the three pillars of agricultural negotiations :
Secondly, he raised the subject of special and differential treatment, which includes agricultural products and confers special rights on developing countries.
Thirdly, he emphasised that the dynamics of developing countries (whose widely varying types need to be taken into account and categorised) bring growing pressure to bear on wealthy nations to grant sizeable concessions to compensate for competition distortion. Without such concessions there is little hope for progress in talks on freeing up markets for services.
In conclusion, he spoke about the growing difficulties developing countries face in accessing genetic resources which are covered by intellectual property rights and protected by patents, emphasising that the patent system is here to stay, as are its serious consequences.
Willem-Jan Laan, agro-economic advisor at Unilever, made the following points :
Christian de Boissieu, who chairs the French Prime Minister’s Economic Analysis Council (CAE), expressed the desire to see the CAE and FARM come together for joint actions. He argued for systematically linking agriculture and food industries, for differentiating problems faced by countries according to their level of development and their capacity to progress, and for remaining attentive to the constantly shifting nature of alliances. He emphasised the importance of encouraging competitivity at the level of sub-groupings, such as sub-regions or complementary sub-sectors of the economy, as a way gradually to achieve overall competitivity.
He concluded by stressing the importance of innovation in agriculture, referring to Tony Blair’s demands concerning the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
Érik ORSENNA, of the Académie Française, expressed two essential points :
Alain CATALA, CEO of Limagrain, summarised the central tenets of his company’s approach :
Gérard MESTRALLET, chief executive of the Suez Group, explained that he defends and promotes the notion of public/private partnerships, especially in emerging countries and within the context of a long-term strategic vision. He concluded with the necessity of EU-US agreements as a necessary precursor to any broader agreements in the WTO framework.
Benoît CORNU, head of the Casino Group, drew attention to the steady inexorable decline of food prices in the developed world as well as to ever-increasing consumer demand for food safety, and to the consequences of these two tendencies for agriculture and trade.
Discussion was brought to a close with several useful ideas for FARM’s actions :