World Economy

G20 Agro Ministers Pledge WTO Reform

G20 Agro Ministers Pledge WTO ReformG20 Agro Ministers Pledge WTO Reform

Agriculture ministers from the G20 countries criticized protectionism in a joint statement on Saturday, and vowed to reform World Trade Organization rules, but did not detail what steps they would take to improve the food trade system.

In the statement, they said they were “concerned about the increasing use of protectionist non-tariff trade measures, inconsistently with WTO rules,” Reuters reported.

The ministers from countries including the United States and China, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the G20 meeting of agriculture ministers, said in the statement they had affirmed their commitment not to adopt “unnecessary obstacles” to trade, and affirmed their rights and obligations under WTO agreements.

The meeting came amid rising trade tensions that have rocked agricultural markets. China and other top US trade partners have placed retaliatory tariffs on American farmers after the Trump administration put duties on Chinese goods as well as steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

US growers are expected to take an estimated $11 billion hit due to China’s retaliatory tariffs. Last week, the Trump administration said it would pay up to $12 billion to help farmers weather the trade war.

US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the meeting that Trump’s plan would include between $7 billion and $8 billion in direct cash relief that US farmers could see as early as late September. Despite the payments, the measures are “not going to make farmers whole,” Perdue said.

 Huge Breakthrough

Trade disagreements between the European Union and the US have thawed somewhat after last week’s meeting between President Trump and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. However, as Germany’s Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner pointed out, there is no guarantee Germany can import the number of US soybeans Washington wants it to, DW reported.

However, Klockner was largely optimistic, saying: “With this G20 meeting, we have succeeded in clear breakthroughs for agriculture, the climate, and therefore for the consumer. We achieved more than we thought we would. That’s a huge breakthrough.”

The ministers talked about, among other things, combining productivity with sustainability and crop diversity.

On the sidelines of the meeting, US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said that the amount of a newly-announced bailout to US farmers would amount to between $7 billion and $8 billion. Farmers have been some of the hardest hit by Trump’s tariffs.

Citing the Trump administration’s relief measures, German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said farmers “don’t need aid, they need trade.”

“We had a very frank discussion about the fact that we don’t want unilateral protectionist measures,” Kloeckner said in a news conference after the meeting.

The ministers, whose countries represent 60% of the world’s agricultural land and 80% of food and agricultural commodities trade, did not specify which measures they were referring to in the statement. Asked for details, Kloeckner said the ministers did not want to “criticize a single country”.

“We all know what happens if a single person or country doesn’t adhere to WTO rules, trying to get a benefit for themselves through protectionism,” she said. “This will usually lead to retaliatory tariffs.”

In the statement, the ministers said they agreed to continue reforming the WTO’s agricultural trade rules.

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