In international trade law, dumping is defined as selling goods below the cost of production plus transportation and handling. Under World Trade Organization rules, dumping is illegal. But countries continue to engage in the process, as demonstrated by the large number of cases involving accusations of dumping heard by the WTO’s dispute resolution panels.
Perhaps the most high-profile dispute in recent years has been the dispute between Brazil and the United States over U.S. cotton subsidies. Brazil contends (and the WTO panels have upheld twice, first in 2005 and again in 2008) that U.S. cotton subsidies are illegal under WTO rules because the sale of such subsidized cotton represents dumping. The cotton dispute is one of the key sticking points in current Doha Round of WTO talks, as a number of developing countries, including Brazil, have demanded the elimination of U.S. cotton subsidies which depress global cotton prices. According to a report prepared by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, global cotton prices would be 6 percent higher absent U.S. subsidies. This represents a significant increase in the livelihoods of poor cotton producers in the global south.
A new study, prepared by Timothy Wise for Woodrow Wilson Center, analyzes the impact of agricultural dumping on Mexican farmers under NAFTA. Looking at agricultural production and trade from 1997 to 2005,Wise concludes that Mexican producers suffered across a number of agricultural sectors, losing some $1.4 billion per year over the course of the study. According to Wise, this represents more than 10 percent of the value of all Mexican agricultural exports to the United States. Maize production was particularly hard hit, as maize imports from the United States were priced, on average, 19 percent below production costs, leading to a 66 percent decline in real producer prices for maize during the time under study. Wise concludes that
Mexico certainly serves as a warning to developing countries considering agricultural trade liberalization. The case also highlights the weakness of international rules for defining and disciplining agricultural dumping. That weakness, and the vulnerability of developing-country farmers to import surges, makes all the more reasonable developing-country demands in the stalled Doha Round negotiations for strong Special Product measures to protect key food crops and effective Special Safeguard Measures to protect against import surges. Until agricultural dumping can be disciplined effectively, developing countries must retain the policy space to defend themselves. Mexico gave up most of its defenses under NAFTA. Farmers are paying a high price.
Dumping—or more generally agricultural subsidies and trade—represents one of the key barriers to the conclusion of the Doha Round of international trade talks. Intended to address some of the major imbalances in international trade, the Doha Round was intended to be the first round of international trade talks focused squarely on international development. But differences between the developed world, led primarily by the European Union, the United Sates, and Japan, and the developing world, led by China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, have paralyzed talks since 2008, and the prospect of rekindling talks appears dim. The major outstanding issues remain:
- Agriculture, especially agricultural subsidies and dumping: Massive subsidies by the United States, Japan and the European Union continue to depress global agricultural prices, undermining production in the global south.
- Access to essential medicines: Establishing conditions under which developing countries can reconcile meting public health needs with the strong system of intellectual property protections afforded under World Trade Organization rules.
- Special and Differential Treatment: Determining if developing countries will be afforded different treatment under some WTO rules.
Wise’s full report, Agricultural Dumping Under NAFTA is available online.