Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Agriculture and The World Trade Organisation

Gurdarshan Singh Bhalla
Jean-Luc Racine
Frédéric Landy


Of Food, Farmers, Trade and States. An Indo-French Dialogue on Agriculture and the WTO

Jean-Luc Racine

Texte intégral

1Plagiarising Kipling, sceptics might believe that in the field of socioeconomic studies, North is North and South is South, and that both can never meet. This is today less true than ever. The competitive trade in goods and the dissemination of research, which contribute to defining the globalisation process in one hand, and the international quest for regulating the market by defining rules acceptable by most of the States on the other, bring the rich, the emerging and the poor countries to the same table, although not necessarily with the same bargaining power. However, as this book will show, the room for discussion is not confined to the high sphere of international negotiations and multinational corporations. When we talk about farmers and food, whatever be the differences between hemispheres, continents and countries, some fundamental questions arise, which relate not only to the quality of life, but also to the role attributed to a conquered and transformed nature by societies which are mostly governed by urban decision-makers.

2We offer here to the reader a multi-faceted dialogue between members of the scientific communities of two major agricultural powers, both founding members of the WTO, each with different stakes in the great globalisation game: France, the world’s second-ranking exporter of agricultural products and headquarters of a number of very active agro-business firms (including in India), and India, emerging since 1991 from its traditional protectionism but legitimately concerned, upon joining GATT, to preserve the interests of its huge farming community and not to fall victim to the profit logic of the multinational corporations, flush with technological capital and determined to exploit the new laws on patent and license fees. In his inaugural speech, the Indian ambassador to France, Mr. Kanwal Sibal, did not fail to stress all that was at stake for his country:

3“For India, agriculture is not simply a trade issue… Taking into account numerous internal constraints like subsistence level farming, small land holdings which restrict attempts at introduction of mechanisation, low productivity, rapidly growing rural population, agricultural growth needs to be supported by government efforts. Such support which is aimed towards ensuring adequate food supply and livelihood cannot, in any context, be construed as being trade distortive.”

4The date of the seminar whose proceedings are offered below made it all the more salient: the preceding month, following a long drawn-out debate begun in 1995, both houses of the Indian Parliament passed a bill on patent reform, which had become indispensable in the framework of India’s WTO commitments. One of the basic issues was precisely the application of intellectual property rights to living organisms, in particular to seeds and geographical indications for reputed agricultural products like Basmati rice. Same focus on the European scene, since difficult negotiations for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had been under way since March 1999, first in Brussels, then at the European Conference in Berlin, against a background of violent demonstrations by French farmers.

5Could French agriculture, marked by a minority of its workforce employed on the land (5% for 2.5% of the GDP) and consumers increasingly worried about food quality, be compared with Indian agriculture, with its 65% of the active population in farming (for 30% of the GDP) and a government still concerned primarily about food security rather than food safety? The answer was a clear “yes”. Christophe Blanc began by recalling the goals of post-war French governments in a country plagued by food shortages: reduce France’s dependence on food imports, improve farmers’living standard; modernise agriculture. How? Subsidies for fertilisers and farm machinery, low-interest loans, minimum support prices for staple crops. As for the Common Agricultural Policy, the “cornerstone of European integration” set out in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, what were its original aims? Guarantee food security, increase productivity, stabilise the markets, ensure farmers a decent living, make food available at reasonable prices. One cannot fail to see the similarity with the goals adopted over the years by successive Indian governments.

6More generally, and in spite of fundamental differences between the two societies, the two economies and the two agriculture systems, the ongoing globalisation process raises common problems having to do with more than competition. One bears on the forms of both internal and international markets, and on the desirable level of government regulation. Another problem is the impact of liberalisation and the WTO on rural societies and national markets. The debate opposes not only developed major exporters and developing countries, for the European Community, as well as India, has taken the United States before the WTO. The third area of concern is the problem of the impact of bio-technologies and the marketing of their products.

7We will first attempt to synthesise a few of the shared preoccupations before going on to present two national perspectives. The first concern, which will deal with the Indian debate, together with the planned reforms to agriculture, trade and food strategy, touches on an area of liberalisation that is particularly sensitive, as it is in all strongly rural countries of the South. The second perspective deals with the nature of the recent changes in French agriculture, which suggests a novel model for relations between production, preservation of the countryside and quality. We will then report on the aspirations voiced in support of a world order in which the necessary market rationales might not exclude the ethical concern for the various forms of food security. Last of all, attention will be paid to the post-seminar most significant developments.

Forms of market, prices, subsidies, competition, equity

8Is there such a thing as liberalisation when it comes to agriculture? Beyond the public positions of principle, even the advocates of the most unadulterated liberalisation acknowledge the need for some market regulation, or at least, as Philippe Chalmin has clarified in his oral presentation, of a public-policy based interventionism that would bolster the strong points and temper the weak points of national economies. The problem, as Jean-Marc Boussard stresses, is not so much the principle of trade as the way the markets work. There turns out to be no such thing as a perfect market. Therefore not only is it socially legitimate to leave room for intervention, it is economically justified when the goal is price stability and security.

9The question of prices and subsidies is inseparable from the issue of poverty, especially in India, which in turn raises the problem of equity. Is it not the case that too many government subsidies, in France as in India, go into the pockets of those who do not really need them? Nevertheless, India is wary of IMF calls for significant reduction of India’s agricultural subsidies, arguing that this direct or indirect support is in fact moderate, and noting as well that, conversely, those countries with the greatest power in the IMF provide very substantial funding to their own agricultural producers. In the broader framework of international economic relations, what kind of equity is expected of the most advantaged countries? Is “Fortress Europe”, denounced by some Indian participants, a reality in the agricultural debate, among others? In any event, the “Banana War”, or Australian or American protectionism in the area of agricultural imports testifies to the existence of numerous barriers and disputes between developed Western countries themselves. Suspicion of the major agricultural powers is not restricted to India. The European Union, too, stresses the amount of aid that Washington pours into American agriculture (49 billions US dollars in 2000), while the US sees European reticence towards hormone-treated or genetically modified products as purely a manoeuvre to use sanitary and phytosanitary criteria as non-tariff barriers to free trade.

10Large-scale negotiations thus have as much to do with power relations as with compromise. In this context, many Indian leaders tend to see Western pleas for greater freedom of trade as a fairly hypocritical weapon used by developed countries, who find ways of getting around their principles when it suits them. This is tantamount to saying that the type of liberalisation advocated by the WTO in its global agreements is not yet effective enough to enable the comparative advantages of the developing countries to emerge. We will see below that a number of Indian participants called for more liberalisation, seen as weakening the dominant powers.

Liberalisation and globalisation: an opportunity or the modern form of an unequal world?

11Despite their respective experience, the experts present were not speaking on behalf of either their own governments or of any national consensus: analyses diverged within the national delegations, and this divergence was no doubt most clear-cut among the Indian participants. In India as in France, but in different ways, globalisation is seen at times as an opportunity to be seized, at times as an inevitable mutation to which one must adapt or which must be humanised to the best of one’s abilities, and at times as a trend to be resisted however powerful it may be. Social concerns were no doubt more apparent on the Indian side for obvious reasons. This is in India a two-pronged issue, bearing at once on the fate of small landholders eking out a living (and all the more on that of landless agricultural labourers) and on consumers’buying power, in particular that of the urban or rural poor, who spend a sizeable portion of their budget on food. Economists and political leaders both are caught in the pincers of price fluctuations. The hypothesis that prices rise when the economy is liberalised has proved true for the basic commodities, affecting the already weak buying power of the most disadvantaged. The opposite hypothesis of a drop in prices in the event of importing commodities for which India is not competitive would affect incomes and perhaps even compromise the economic survival of small producers or export non-competitive sectors. The debate cannot content itself with dogmas or generalisations. The effects of liberalising trade must be studied with respect to the various types of production concerned, the reform calendars and the complex regulations that allow some leeway while setting out, at least for transitional periods, different obligations for different types of national economy.

12On the French side, modernisation of agriculture has long since decimated the workforce. What remains is the farmers’anxiety, not all of a piece and which cannot be reduced simply to the most powerful lobbies. The fact that French agriculture is a strong export sector in no way lessens the social tensions or the status of a farmer dependent on subsidies and no longer on his own production for the survival of his farm. It is clear that the Common Agricultural Policy makes French agriculture very different, in substance, from Indian agriculture, because it defines in completely different terms the problem of the country’s room to elaborate government choices. The mediating role of the European Union between France and the global agricultural markets does not have an Indian counterpart, since relations between central government and the 28 State governments do not operate in a comparable framework. Therefore France needs, in the words of Jacques Loyat, to keep her “French identity within the framework of a supranational policy”, a European one in this case, which itself is part of the overall framework of globalisation.

13The issue of opening up to global markets is particularly acute in India. While agriculture is only one of the areas affected by the liberalisation policy cautiously conducted by the government since 1991, it is a particularly sensitive one as much for social and economic reasons as for reasons of political balance. Food security, which has been achieved at the national level, despite the malnutrition still afflicting a portion of the population, is seen as an indispensable condition for national security and independence. For some of the Indian participants, the current liberalisation drive will put an end to the rigid policy of government intervention, which, despite its positive aspects, has been unable to solve the problem of poverty or that of full efficiency. The conclusion is that the public distribution system of foodgrains at subsidised prices must be revamped in order to fulfil its social goals. For those most sceptical about these reforms, the decisive question is different: when the WTO was set up, it was understood that India, together with other developing countries, would stand to gain, especially in the area of agriculture. The balance sheet seems very disappointing however. The benefits are highly uncertain (even if India now exports rice), since the regions or countries afraid of competition from emerging countries — starting with the European Union - have devised a variety of protective measures. In this matter, as in industrial competition, India “is not asking for preferential treatment, but for a level playing field.”

14In such a vital and passion-ridden area as the future of agriculture and food security, the readings of the world order should inevitably alternate between economic analyses (of course the experts differ among themselves) and ideological interpretations put forth by political and media sources, including in India which has an active, high-quality, pluralist press. It might be useful, in this regard, to look beyond the widespread North/South or Developed Countries/Developing Countries dichotomies and focus on the oppositions within each camp (for example the divergences between the US and the EU) and the tensions within each country stemming from conflicts of interest between various sectors of the farming community, between different production sectors or between various actors and investors in the agriculture and food chain.

15As always, we need to look beyond the large categories. To see the French government defend its “national interests” in inter-European negotiations or to hear French participants stress that Europe could need India in its negotiations with the American-led Miami Club casts a more subtle light on the traditional divisions. At issue here is the room for national sovereignty in regional groupings as well as the construction of a truly multipolar world order. And what is true for customs tariffs or non-tariff barriers is just as true for the new scientific-commercial field associated with the biotechnology boom.

Intellectual property rights and bio-technology. Is research caught between profit and ethics? The status of science

16The question of intellectual property rights and bio-technologies opened up a debate that went well beyond national boundaries. Two types of problems came under discussion. The first, the question of biotechnologies in the strict sense of the term, concerns the purported effects of genetically modified organisms, GMO’s. In both France and India a debate is raging over this still controversial point. The question of the application of intellectual property rights to biotechnologies is a broader issue, which was informatively discussed by Hélène Ilbert. India is one of the countries spearheading the global debate over the legitimacy of patenting living organisms and the profit logic driving the biotechnology multinationals. These multinational corporations such as Monsanto (which is active in India), are sometimes seen as trampling on farmers’basic rights - as in the plan to diffuse so-called “Terminator” seeds, which cannot be saved and reused - and sometimes legitimised due to the lack of public funding for research. But accepting the positive contribution of GMO’s, their promise of a less-polluting agriculture with guaranteed yields does not settle the question for India, since, for certain observers, among whom Pushpa Savadatti, this positive assessment carries a negative corollary: the future of agriculture would then lie in the hands of the multinational corporations controlling biotechnology research.

17Beyond the concerns of activists and governments, and the full-page advertisements taken out by the multinationals, familiarity with the texts is necessary, especially when it comes to distinguishing between the concepts of product and process. But it is also important to note the still-unresolved contradictions between the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), put forward by the WTO, and other international agreements such as the 1992 agreement on bio-diversity, FAO farmers’rights and the recognition of traditional types of knowledge. Not every country is capable of building its strategy on biotechnology. Although India has undertaken research in this area, it is still wary of the imperialism of the multinational biotechnology firms and only ratified WTO legislation on intellectual property rights after a prolonged public and parliamentary debate. Yet because of its bio-diversity and the quality of its scientists, India may become a serious competitor in the international arena.

18Three questions remain unresolved:

  • How can a strategy of commercialised research be reconciled with the interests of a peasantry concerned about the cost of the new technologies?
  • How can the domination of a few multinational corporations be reconciled with the national need for food security and the global concern for “bio-security”? The failure of the Cartagena meeting, which, due to American pressure, was unable to agree on the regulation of trade in genetically modified products, shows just how much remains to be done.
  • What future does publicly funded research have in an area where 90% of the world’s patents are held by the private sector? The February 1999 creation of the French research firm Génoplante attests the desire to associate publicly funded research and specialised private laboratories. This choice has been depicted either as the only way for France to stay in the race to sequence foodgrains genes or as the capitulation of public powers to private appropriation of genetic resources.

19Thus arises the question of the status of science, a topic that was discussed less from the standpoint of the relation between public-sector and private-sector research than from the perspective of the relativity of scientific criteria and the implications this has in the framework of the WTO. The papers read by J.C. Bureau and J.P. Doussin were highly significant from this point of view. The US-EU conflict over hormone-treated beef is a perfect illustration of different conceptions of the validity of sanitary criteria. These divergent views have a number of consequences - and widen the gap - for risk assessment and even more for risk management: the “principle of precaution” invoked by Europe, vacillates between high-handed prudence (i.e. reject a product if you are not reasonably sure about its safety) and suspicions of protectionist manoeuvres. The two French contributions go further still: even though the risks associated with a product or a technique (irradiated food, for example) are zero, or more probably near-zero, cultural tastes or differences cannot be discounted. Like ethical concerns (over animal welfare, for example) consumer preferences have an economic impact. Although public opinion may be more ideological than scientific, it cannot be ignored: sceptical views of globalisation or official science are not without their effect on public or private policy-makers.

20There where the life sciences cross paths with the social sciences, what correlations can be established between science, economics, culture, civil society and state policies? This question is not restricted to the most industrialised countries. It is also of concern in India, where there are a great number of activist organisations: from farmer pressure groups to ecological associations, from movements for the defence of disadvantaged groups to debates on bio-technologies, from scientific symposiums to the prospective departments of the major political parties… From the responsibilities incumbent on experts to the citizens’right to know, we are in a field that is bound to develop as much through discussions on the commercial use of research on living organisms as on the economic and security implications of new forms of agriculture in an era of globalisation.

Indian positions: differences and consensus

21Having outlined some of the main lines of the French-Indian dialogue, we would now like to bring out some of the issues debated within the Indian delegation itself. One detects in the Indian contributions a number of essential and enlightening lines of reflection which define, so to speak, the leeway for choice in a country that is home to one sixth of humanity, and which sees food security as one of the basic instruments of national independence.

22First of all, India’s liberalisation policy is regarded, even by its critics, as an established fact. Pushpa Savadatti views the founding of the WTO as “a definitive victory for the industrialised countries”. She considers the agreement on intellectual property rights as a loss for citizens and civil society to the benefit of monopoly-holding multinational corporations. She however admits that this would still not be enough to decide India to leave the WTO. G.S. Bhalla, whose distinguished career path would tend to place him among the opponents of liberalism, admits that globalisation may hold opportunities for India’s farmers, provided two major conditions are met. Firstly, food security and foodgrains self-sufficiency must be top priority (with which M.L. Chhipa agrees). Secondly, the interests of small and marginal farmers must be protected, since those working less than two hectares account for 78% of India’s farming community. This being said, “India should partake of the benefits of trade liberalization”. It can do this only by acting on two sets of parameters.

23The first calls for stepped-up public and private investment in agriculture with a view to attaining greater productivity, lower prices and availability of exportable surpluses once food security has been achieved.

24The second identifies productions which are to be high value-added and labour-intensive items: milk and dairy products, horticultural crops, flowers and fisheries. It is up to India to use the negotiation leeway provided in the framework of the WTO (and the effects of the rupee’s devaluation) on two fronts: i) with respect to the developing countries “dragging their feet” over their own subsidy reductions, ii) in the framework of the GATT provisions for protecting small farmers, to see that the necessary protective measures are adopted.

25While G.S. Bhalla is faithful to decades of planned economy – stressing in particular the need to keep land ceilings – his acceptance of foodgrains trade reform is testimony to the evolutions taking place in India: both the restrictions on foodgrains movement between districts, regions and states of India, and the obligation to sell part of the foodgrains production to the Food Corporation of India for stockholding and public distribution must be lifted.

26At the other end of the ideological scale, what do the liberals have to say? Like Bibek Debroy, they reject the populist “myths” that paint a dark picture of the implications of the WTO. No, farmers subsidies will not be ended. No, the public distribution system (PDS) will not disappear. No, India will not be forced to import massive quantities of foreign agricultural products. No, all seeds will not have to be bought from multinational corporations. Confronted with myths, attention must be focused on the real implications of the WTO, which are far more shaded… and more technical. Like Ashok Gulati, Bibek Debroy stresses the fact that the support India actually gives its peasants is below the WTO benchmark, and that India therefore has nothing to fear on this point. Why has India not clearly profited from world trade liberalisation when it could be altogether competitive in rice, certain fruits and certain canned vegetables? For Debroy it is not enough to blame non-trade barriers erected by rich countries: the first thing to do is reform the Indian economy by doing away with a number of policies, such as export quotas and minimum export prices, certain protective measures and monopolies for the small-scale sector which stifle growth of the food-processing sector, or land ceilings that do not permit economies of scale. It is also necessary to modernise the infrastructure by providing food-processing industries with the necessary equipment. All of which means encouraging both private and public investment, and giving agriculture the same support enjoyed by industry so as to promote, with the help of major companies, “the industrialisation of agriculture”. Without such reforms, “the Uruguay Round agreement on agriculture will merely represent an elusive potential that India is not in a position to tap.”

27Ashok Gulati, who stresses India’s lag in recognising the considerable export potential of some of its agricultural products, presents a detailed analysis of WTO implications for Indian agriculture and then goes on to define an Indian strategy for international negotiations: since India’s agricultural sector receives far fewer subsidies than is commonly believed, India should not ask the WTO for special protective measures to ensure food security. It would be better off playing other cards, and playing them “aggressively”. India must take a stand against the level of export subsidies the United States and the European Union pay their farmers. It must press for reduction of government subsidies to agriculture. It must take a stand against the monopoly powers of state trading enterprises in such countries as Canada, China, Japan, Russia… and even India. But India will no doubt be hindered more by its own export capacity than by the various forms of the world market. It must therefore actively promote reform of the system of subsidies in many developing countries. “India need not be ‘defensive’ in opening up her own agriculture. If at all, it needs to be somewhat ‘aggressive’ in negotiating faster liberalisation.”

28Standing somewhere between the liberal school and those who stress the achievements of planned economies, Bhupat Desai argues for a consensus based on better information, and on combination of the roles of the state and the market. Among the positive measures that have been adopted, some are “rightly conceived” and others “misconceived” or “ill conceived”. For instance, too much emphasis on setting prices right as a basis of agricultural policy is a mistake, for price always has an ambiguous impact. Other factors are more important (positively and negatively) for growth: irrigation, technology, landholding size, yields, expenditures on rural development, institutional rigidities, quality of infrastructure for transportation and commercialisation (not to mention climate!). The GATT price and trade reforms correspond to a logic of more efficient markets and services, but they do not in themselves fulfil the first goal, which should be increased agricultural production. This requires a “new green revolution”, and therefore more state expenditure on technology, research and equipment. All the better if the WTO can fit such state support into the “Green Box” of exempted measures. This stand converges to a certain extent with the position of S.S. Acharya, who also argues that India must step up foodgrains production, improve technologies, develop spending on agriculture – and on the regions lagging behind: one way of saying that a stronger Indian agricultural sector depends primarily on national parameters, even though there is the danger that India’s entry into the world food market may have a negative impact on its own terms of trade.

29The two experts diverge, however, on the strategy to adopt. Acharya advocates striking a balance between minimum support price for food grains and a cautions reduction of subsidies to those entering the market. Desai, on the other hand, argues that effective support for agriculture means subsidies for entrants rather than price control. Intellectual property rights, the famous TRIPS, for their part, can clearly stimulate innovation, but there is the danger that they may raise the cost of the new patented technologies. The price of these patents or licenses should therefore be added into the supports exempted under the “Green Box”.

30Over and beyond differences of approach, what is the margin of consensus that might be the smallest common denominator of the agricultural policy recommended by the various schools of thought? Here are a few essential points:

  • Trade liberalisation has not had the positive impact announced at the signing of the GATT on developing countries in general and on India in particular.
  • And yet benefits can be expected for certain sectors, depending on the type of agricultural product, provided two kinds of reform are carried out:
    First, reform of the practices of developed countries, especially the United States and the European Union, which preach liberalism but in fact protect their own agriculture much more strongly than the developing countries, including India. In this respect, India is not asking for less liberalism, but on the contrary, for faster reform in rich countries. Second, reforms to be carried out in India in view of further liberalisation of the agricultural economy. The consensus here includes, at the minimum, reforming the Public Distribution System (PDS) and redirecting it at the most disadvantaged, as well as dropping a certain number of regulatory measures such as those on the foodgrains market.
  • Another, perhaps more shaded, consensus, recognizes the need for state spending, which must continue together with parallel private investment, and the need for development of the technology and infrastructure indispensable for both increased production and more powerful market tools, in particular for food processing and export.

31Beyond this point, consensus is scant, for although no one believes that the market gods are omniscient and can be left entirely to their own devices, opinions differ on the leeway to be left to international forces. G.S. Bhalla, for instance, stresses the absolute necessity for foodgrains self-sufficiency as the basis for food security, while Bibek Debroy feels that this security could be safely achieved by the internationalisation of food movement. The spread of opinions is wide.

32No doubt there is still the decisive area of the negotiations to come. This supposes that the Indian government, speaking with a single voice having assessed the technical parameters of India’s agriculture and the WTO regulations, finds a way to tread the narrow path between its own GATT commitments, the social duties a parliamentary democracy owes its largely poor peasant population and the announced implementation of a firm but cautious policy of economic reform. The Indian negotiators can be expected to be hard-headed. So can their partners. The question is whether everyone will be playing the game of the new world order on a level field.

The new French agriculture

33One hundred million farms in India (60% of which have an area of less than 1 ha), 730,000 farms in France. A race to produce more in India. European regulations and even quotas to limit production in France. And we could go on citing differences. Let us simply point out what, for the Indian participants, seemed to characterise France, as opposed to the traditional picture of an agricultural sector striving to satisfy the basic needs of a nation, and perhaps produce a surplus for export in some areas. Two points stand out, both of which are linked to the productivity of French agriculture based on a numerically very limited farming community. The first concerns the definition of product quality and the second has to do with the “territoriality”, in other words the physical moorings, of farming activities and of the farmer’s new role in maintaining the countryside.

34In France as in the rest of the European Union, quantity, as a problem exacerbated more by surpluses than by scarcity, and quality have taken on a hitherto unseen importance. The polysemy of the French term “sécurité alimentaire”, masks a twofold concept that is more clearly expressed by the English notions of “food security” – a problem still present in India but not merely at the production level – and “food safety”, which involves primarily sanitary criteria. The French participants were far more interested than their Indian colleagues in public-health issues, which are defined in medical terms, of course, but also in terms of taste and culture, as well as in relation to trade, since sanitary and phyto-sanitary criteria can be used to block foreign agricultural imports.

35Another noteworthy point from the Indian perspective was the paradox between the small number of French farmers and their considerable political weight. This is clearly a legacy from the early days of the French parliamentary democracy, when the countryside weighed heavily in the electoral equation. But today there is another essential fact that should no doubt be taken into account as well: the French farmer is no longer simply a producer. He is also a decisive agent in the preservation of the rural landscape, a space perceived as an aesthetic, economic and ecological asset in a post-industrial society where the relationship between a mainly urban population and nature may have changed form, but has not lost any of its importance. The concern to preserve the countryside and villages as part of the national heritage echoes a number of complementary rationales: valorisation of a territory that supports an increasingly important tourist economy; search for less polluting and more sustainable agricultural practices; and creation of new kinds of rural non-farm employment. The same objectives can be seen in the logic of Agenda 2000 – with its emphasis on the importance of product quality and protecting the environment –, direct subsidies being uncoupled from production (Jacques Loyat), as in the new “territorial exploitation contracts”. From this standpoint, Jean Paul Charvet depicts a French agriculture whose total inclusion in the European Common Agricultural Policy as well as its position in the world markets are by no means vectors of uniformisation. On the contrary, territorial differentiation is on the rise, and is even institutionalised through the various subsidies granted not only for production, but also as a function of geographical context: mountainous terrain, wetlands, etc.

Agriculture and the world order: Europe and the appeal for a global food security fund

36In the transition phase that marks the end of our century, all of the partners are watching each other, each keeping one eye on his own interests and the other on practices in the opposite camp judged to be irregular. In this global barter, two figures cited by Bibek Debroy are particularly striking: export subsidies in developed countries amount to some 21 billion US dollars; those in developing countries come to around 1.7 billion dollars. To these must be added import restrictions, sometimes based on non-trade criteria (social clauses, new phytosanitary regulations…), often regarded by developing countries - and by India – as ploys used by well-off countries to block the growing competition from emerging nations. That is the first work site, which falls within the framework of the WTO.

37There remains finally, the issue of the major cleavages dividing the world: to what extent should the North/South opposition - mentioned above – be validated? To be sure, it inevitably crops up in WTO negotiations, but alongside other competing criteria and other rationales of conflict. While India – like many emerging countries - does not always appreciate the social cost of globalisation to advanced countries, are the latter any better at gauging the extent to which the problem of food security (in terms of quantity as well as availability) in massively rural countries, underpins social issues and is the key to the political stability of state structures? The appeal to create a global food security fund, launched by the Indian convenor of this seminar, is more than a purely Indian concern. The question G.S. Bhalla raises is not addressed solely to France, but to the entire European Union. In what could become a multi-polar world order, India raises the question of the degree of autonomy Europe intends to maintain with respect to the United States. The question, “Is Europe concerned by the global food situation?”, in reality echoes some major uncertainties having to do with an eventual European specificity, the respective roles of multinational corporations and states in the globalisation process with a view to “good governance”, and on WTO’s placing with respect to the other international organisations: ILO for social clauses and the FAO for food-related issues.

Seattle and after: commonality and divergences

38Finally, the comments on the most recent developments offer a significant perspective on the commonality existing between India and France, and on the divergences which set them apart. Fundamentally, the Indian perspective presented by G.S. Bhalla is focussed on the drawbacks of WTO. The failure of the Seattle conference, which was supposed to launch a new round of negotiations, exposes the imbalance of the new economic world order. Far from drawing benefits from the new trade regime, developing countries find themselves faced with unresolved challenges, for the developed countries still adopt a double-edged protectionist policy, based upon high import tariffs and non-trade barriers on one hand, and huge export subsidies on the other hand. This strategy prevents developing countries from having fair access to developed markets, and weakens their own national markets, “targeted by the subsidised products from the developed countries”. These concerns define the issues that should be addressed in the new Millennium Round of Agreement on Agriculture. To quote Bhalla, “there is a need for a total overhaul of the whole system of import and export subsidies”. Issues of nontariff barriers are important as well, and would call particularly for “reasonable levels of sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements”, as defined by the Codex Alimentarus, and not devised according to national standards. Last but not least, the impact of liberalisation on small farmers remains a decisive parameter. India, which remains “fully committed to the WTO’s objective of multilateral trade liberalization” is therefore asking, as many other developing countries, for a more genuine liberalisation, which implies that the developed countries accept equitable rules of the game, instead of promoting a protectionist agenda under the veil of liberalisation.

39Certainly India, as other developing countries, has to “increase productivity, develop human capital and skill and ensure effective rural infrastructure to realise the potential benefits of liberalization”. But this being said, the divergences between developed and developing countries remain wide open.

40The French perspective presented by Jacques Loyat does recognise that the divide between developed and developing countries is partly responsible for the failure of the Seattle Conference and acknowledges the need for reforming the system. However, the problems faced by French agriculture are not seen only through the basic filter of the North-South dichotomy. Two additional dimensions must be considered as well, and in fact define more precisely the French agenda. The first relates to the European Union, which defines now, through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the rules of the game for the EU member countries. The second addresses the growing problem of food safety. While GS Bhalla acknowledges the necessity to define “reasonable levels” of sanitary requirements, he strongly underline that “the issue of food security remains of fundamental importance for all developing countries”. By contrast, food safety has drawn attention as never before in Europe, following the spread of the “mad cow” disease in the nineties, and the foot and mouth disease in 2000-2001. The dreadful threat hanging over European (and particularly British) cattle is seen as a challenging drift of industrialised agriculture and animal husbandry, lured by the short term quest for profit. On a different front, but related as well to food safety, the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety, signed in 2000 admits that the States, for health emergency reasons, may define public policy conflicting with the liberal WTO rules.

41The Agenda 2000, agreed upon in 1999, calls for redefining the European Common Agricultural Policy, while the new French Agricultural Orientation Act, passed also in 1999, has launched a new concept: the multi-functionality of agriculture, whose aim is not just to produce more and more, but to address three different objectives: i) a better equilibrium between agriculture, environment and a sustainable development which includes the preservation of landscape and rural population as well; ii) the necessary correlation between reformed agricultural practices and food safety; iii) the search for fair world trade. The present thinking in France is therefore multi-scale: national, European and global. To quote Loyat, “In the EU, increasing productivity leads to more environmental and social damage, while the subsidisation of intensive farming generates distortions and conflicts at the international level”.

42When Jean Glavany, the French Agriculture Minister calls (in Le Monde, 06-04-2001) for defining “a new contract between Europe and its farmers”, in order to produce not more, but better, he is not just addressing an EU issue. For behind the structural divide between developed and developing countries, the WTO debate on agriculture, in India and in France, in the South and in the North, raises questions which are in fact of global relevance. Those who criticise the double standards and the blatant or disguised protectionism of the developed countries, and those who, in these developed countries, denounce the “negative effects of an uncontrolled liberalisation of the agricultural trade” on food security, food safety, the environment and the rural economy, address in fact the same global issue. Whatever could be their divergences, all of them raise the same question: how to regulate the liberalisation process of agricultural production, trade and transformation, for the benefit of society as a whole, at the global level between poor and rich countries, and inside each nation as well?

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2002

Conditions d’utilisation :