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On Nov. 30, representatives from more than 120 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet in Seattle to officially commence what is expected to be a long and difficult task of renegotiating the provisions of the Agreement on Agriculture. The Agreement is one of the accords signed by the country when the Philippine Senate ratified our membership to the WTO in December1994.
Article 20 of the Agreement stipulates that the accord will be re-negotiated after five years of implementation (starting Jan. 1, 2000). This is the reason WTO member nations are converging in Seattle. But in a way, this is also indicative of the difficulty in arriving at a consensus on the liberalization of agricultural trade.
In fact, a major stumbling block in the early establishment of the WTO was the inability of the negotiating countries to reach agreement on the proposed agricultural liberalization covenant. Member nations, whether developed or developing, found it politically unpalatable to abandon protectionist measures to their farming community. Partly this explains why tariff and non-tariff barriers on agriculture trade are slow to decline or not easily removed as those in the manufacturing sector. And partly, this also accounts for the fact that one agenda of the talks is the assessment of the impact of the liberalization process on the respective member countries' agricultural sector.
To each his own
The talks have not yet started but already disagreements have emerged. While the meeting was intended to discuss the Agreement on Agriculture, other countries are attempting to include in the discussion other areas of concern (e.g., services) in the WTO. The motive behind this move is that these countries feel that …