Argentina's 'Got Milk' and Wants to Export More of It ; Developing Countries Want Delegates to This Week's WTO Summit In

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Argentina's 'Got Milk' and Wants to Export More of It ; Developing Countries Want Delegates to This Week's WTO Summit In


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As the world changed over the last decade, so did Sancor, Argentina's largest dairy-products company. An example of a company in a developing country that took the expanding international market place seriously, Sancor now sells its milk as far away as the United States.

But Sancor would like foreign doors to open even wider to its milk cans. So like many other developing countries looking for lower trade barriers to their farm products, Argentina has its hopes set on the current international trade talks in Seattle.

The problem is, European farmers - as well as US farm bailouts - may get in the way.

Argentina is one of a group of agricultural export countries sending a clear message to World Trade Organization delegates gathering this week. That is, without agriculture on the table, the talks will not fly. Argentina wants better global access for its wheat, soy, beef - and Sancor's milk products. In exchange, developed countries want better access to service industries and government contracts.

The message the world's trade players send out of Seattle will determine the enthusiasm in countries like Argentina for staying on the global trade track.

So far, however, the European Union, which is responsible for 85 percent of the world's trade-distorting farm subsidies, doesn't seem ready to cut its multibillion dollar farm-aid program. Doing so would mean almost certain confrontation with Europe's farmers, who periodically dump their produce on highways at any hint of lower subsidies.

But Argentine officials are categoric about the front seat agriculture must take in Seattle. "Agriculture cannot be treated as something separate; it must be fully integrated," says Felix Pea, Argentine undersecretary of foreign trade.

Not just the EU, but also Japan and South Korea, oppose liberalizing their agricultural sectors, arguing that farming is a "multifunctional" sector that represents more than just trade to their countries' cultures. But Mr. Pea says his "strong words" should not be taken as an empty threat. "Remember Montreal," he says, referring to a 1988 meeting of trade ministers when farm producers like Argentina paralyzed the last round of international trade talks, called the Uruguay Round. But even with the Montreal paralysis, farm producers were disappointed that developed countries weren't forced to open up to agricultural products from non- subsidizing countries.

Argentina is not alone in saying that won't happen again. "If there are no agriculture negotiations [in these talks] there will be no round at all," says Brazilian trade minister Marcus Pratini de Morais.

Australia and Canada also support barrier-free farm trade, while the US is calling for elimination of farm subsidies and access for genetically modified products. The EU and other farm producers like Australia are calling the US stand for zero subsidies hypocritical, however, since US emergency farm bailouts rose to over $14 billion last year.

Argentina is an example of a mid-size, developing country that over the last decade has opened a closed economy to international investment and growth through exports. …

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