Building capacity to help Africa trade better

WTO: Agricultural Issues for Africa


WTO: Agricultural Issues for Africa

WTO: Agricultural Issues for Africa

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The agriculture trade talks started in 2000 in terms of the original mandate of the Agreement on Agriculture, and then became part of the Doha Round of negotiations in 2001. Many scholars argue that following the completion of the Uruguay Round (UR), the sensitive issues surrounding agriculture are the main reasons why the Doha Round of trade negotiations is proving so difficult to conclude. Trade Ministers at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference adopted important decisions on agriculture and at the most recent Ministerial Conference in December 2015 in Nairobi, members of the WTO agreed to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. This marks an extremely important step in the reform of international trade rules on agriculture since the establishment of the WTO.

This book focuses on these developments as well as the increasingly important role of non-tariff barriers that impact international of agricultural products. In addition, an examination of dispute resolution provisions in the WTO and in regional trade agreements, is also presented. The analysis emphasises that a rules based system of international trade requires a well-established dispute settlement mechanism, and the enforcement of rules.


There are generally considered to be four legs to the global trading seat of trade liberalisation. These are the unilateral leg, or what one does on one’s own; the bilateral leg, or what one does between one other partner; the regional leg, representing what one does with more than one partner; and the multilateral leg or what one does with all of one’s trading partners collectively. Over the last few years the third leg, that of regionalism in the form of free and partial trade agreements has become more in vogue on the international trade policy scene, and in particular the two so-called Mega agreements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States. On the African scene politicians have conveniently skipped over the Tripartite Free Trade Arrangement (TFTA) that has not advanced much past the talking phase and are concentrating on promoting continental integration through the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA).

Meanwhile, the WTO remains the largest trading bloc despite being in a state of what many regard as moribund and having done little since its inauguration as a part of the old General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to further its mandate of facilitating a free global trading system. Undoubtedly the GATT had made significant progress in liberalising merchandise trade, with tariff rates on manufactured goods now often at very low levels. There was much hope for agriculture reform at the inauguration of the WTO following the Uruguay Round (UR), as for the first time agriculture had been an important and significant part of the outcome of a GATT Round. Domestic subsidies for agriculture were at least forced into a restrained set of rules that must take credit for being a major factor curtailing their worst excesses. Tariffs have been reduced, although there are significant exceptions to this statement, and in particular in the importation of sensitive products to developed country markets.

The WTO covers trade in goods, services and intellectual property, dispute settlements and a periodic review of the trade policy of members. Within goods there are the two basic divisions of agriculture and non-agriculture, and this publication is primarily concerned with the WTO role in agriculture. In turn, the agricultural interests of the WTO concern the three basic areas of:

  1. Substantially reducing tariff and non-tariff measures that would ensure market access of agricultural products.

  2. Reduction and ultimately phasing out all artificial forms of export competition.

  3. Substantial reduction in domestic support that would ensure non-trade distortion.

Proposals based around moving forward in these three broad areas have been on the table since 2004, with little progress except in the export competition area. Outside of these broad categories perhaps the main one that is of direct interest to African agriculture is the dispute mechanism, and here the focus is largely upon the cotton case. In understanding the WTO one must appreciate that not all members are equal. The organisation comprises a self-selection made of both developed and developing countries (which includes a sub-category of least developing countries), with all the African countries in the developing category. In general, these developing countries are not required to meet as strict a compliance target as the developed countries, and indeed for those in the least developing category the targets are currently such that in most cases little adjustments would be needed in their policies to meet an agreement of the DDA.

Against this background, the objective of this book is to examine the current proposals associated with the DDA and assess what a successful agreement might mean for African agriculture. We concentrate upon the three keys themes that are core to agriculture in the WTO; those of domestic supports, market access and export incentives. We fully recognise that the WTO and the DDA is about more than just these core themes, and introduce many of these activities in different chapters to assess the WTO’s relevance of these to African agriculture.

Book launch

The book launch took place on Friday 21 April, in Pretoria and was hosted by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) of South Africa. NAMC and tralac have been collaborating for several years; this book marks another milestone in the longstanding relationship between the two organisations that has also seen many capacity building initiatives called Geek Weeks that provide an opportunity for young professionals to work with established scholars on research areas of interest. View photos from the launch and a presentation by Ron Sandrey, tralac Associate, here.

© 2017 Trade Law Centre and National Agricultural Marketing Council

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. No paragraph of the publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

Publication of this book was made possible by the support of the Trade Law Centre (tralac) and the National Agricultural Marketing Council. The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily the view of any of these institutions.


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