Global farm aid demanded for food security
Monday, 25 February 2008

Staff Correspondent

Bangladesh, as a net food importer among least developed countries, deserves international financial aid in conformity with the agreement on agriculture under the World Trade Organisation to help overcome the challenges of food security, a civic forum on trade reiterated on Saturday.

It said countries like Bangladesh should also be allowed to provide farm subsidy in order to support farmers, sustain agriculture and ensure food security of the vulnerable people.

Make Trade Fair Alliance, a combine of non-government organisations, further demanded that LDCs in general should be given 100 per cent duty-free and quota-free access of all commodities to markets of developed countries, including the USA.

It rejected the US offer under the New Partnership for Development Act 2007, a bill now pending with the US Congress, to give some conditional trade concession to LDCs.

During the Hong Kong ministerial conference, Washington pledged to give poor economies duty-free access for 97 per cent products, still a deviation from the Doha Round talks.

The alliance, at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity, placed a set of demands related to trade interests of countries such as Bangladesh ahead of a scheduled meeting of LDC trade ministers in Maseru, Lesotho, on February 27-29. Commerce adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman is expected to attend the meet, fifth of its kind, which is aimed at reviewing the interest of poorer countries in the global trade regime.

This meeting may be used as preparatory talks for a meeting of world trade ministers sometimes this year. However, the demands that were incorporated into the declaration at the LDC ministers' previous meeting in Livingston, Zambia, in 2005 remained stuck due to the slow process of global trade talks. 'Agriculture must be kept outside the purview of the WTO rules to save it from commercialisation.

And developed countries shall not impose any restriction on exports from LDCs,' said Masud Ali, executive director of Incidin Bangladesh, a component of the alliance. Asghar Ali Sabri, Abdullah Al Mamun and Khalid Hussain were also present at the briefing. Masud Ali pointed out that developed countries and multilateral lending agencies used various means to exert pressure on poorer countries to withdraw or reduce subsidy on farm sector which is considered the backbone of weaker economies.

'Trade concession under the WTO is not a gift, rather a right for us.' He told a questioner that it was a mere myth that countries like Bangladesh had benefited from farm subsidies provided by the developed economies to their farmers. 'Has Bangladesh ever been able to purchase food at lower price?

Never. They rather block our exports there,' he added. Free movement of labour forces is another demand that the LDCs have long been insisting on. Bangladesh is among the top exporters of migratory workers, earning a huge remittance to support its balance of payments deficit.

The alliance reiterated the demand for waiver of the debts of poorer countries, special and differential treatment and also aid for trade to improve their capacity for coping with the challenges of globalisation.

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