Yudhoyono slams 'unfair' global trade practices

Rendi Akhmad Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has criticized imbalances in the international trade regime supported by most developed nations that limit access to agricultural products from poor and developing nations.

Speaking before international delegations during the opening session of the 28th Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regional conference, Yudhoyono urged cooperation between international agencies to reduce what he said were unfair practices.

"Unfortunately for developing countries like Indonesia, the playing field for international trade is not level. Protectionist trade policies in the developed world have impacted negatively on developing countries. We are the ones suffering the downside of trade liberalization," he said.

The imbalances had limited the country's capacity to export its agricultural produce to many developed nations, thus undermining expansion of the agricultural sector.

Yudhoyono urged the FAO, a UN body, to encourage developed countries to actively participate in multilateral negotiations on the reform of agriculture trade rules.

He said this would enable developing countries to benefit from global trade in a way that would boost their development -- particularly rural development and food security.

"I hope the FAO succeeds in opening up opportunities for developing countries in the Doha Round. Thus, subsidies that distort trade and production would be reduced or eliminated."

"With the laying down of trade rules that are more friendly to development, the economic constraints now burdening developing countries can be overcome while imbalances in the international trade regime can be rectified," said Yudhoyono.

Although one of the FAO's main functions is to help poor and developing nations to achieve food security and help develop their agriculture sectors, many believe that the agency has failed to carry out these tasks.

Third world agrarian economies, like Indonesia, are backward and still bear the imprint of feudalism. The majority of landless farmers have to endure harsh exploitation and growing takeovers of their land by big corporations.

However, the current FAO conference did not touch any land reform issues, even though the majority of the Asian population consists of landless farmers.

For Indonesia, agriculture contributes about 15 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), and is the main source of income for the country's rural population, most of whom live in regions suffering from chronic food insecurity.

Yudhoyono said the government would apply more resources to the development of rural areas as part of the decentralization program in which local governments have been given a greater share of tax revenues and administrative power so as to be able to determine their own development priorities.

Indonesia, home to more than 220 million people, sees less than 3 percent growth in the agriculture sector annually.
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