These “regular” Agriculture Committee meetings deal
with routine WTO work, and not the current
negotiations, which take place in separate “special sessions”. The committee
comprises all WTO members. One of the committee’s core functions is to receive
notifications from WTO members on how they are applying their commitments in
agriculture, and to discuss these when issues arise.
Two agriculture coalitions — the Cairns Group and the G-20 — supported by the
US and EU said the violations risk undermining the credibility of the
multilateral trading system, could hurt other countries, and run counter to the
objective that all WTO members have agreed on continuing agricultural trade
reform through the Doha Round negotiations.
But they also acknowledged that the countries concerned had notified their
levels of support even though the figures revealed the breaches. They said this
allowed the breaches to be discussed and the committee — which consists of all
WTO members — to play its role in monitoring and surveilling how governments are
complying with their commitments under the WTO’s Agriculture Agreement.
Some of the breaches were attributed to high world prices and tighter supply,
partly blamed on export restrictions.
Ukraine, which has notified its restrictions on grain exports, was asked why
it needed the measure, whether it had taken the impact on importing countries
into account, and whether it plans to renew the restrictions in the new year.
The committee also looked more broadly at food security, as it usually does
in its November meeting. The World Food Programme reported that although the
food crisis is easing it is far from over.
The questions members ask each other in the review of notifications, and
their replies, come under the committee’s key responsibility of overseeing how
countries are complying with their commitments on subsidies and market access.
Members can also ask about agricultural measures that have not yet been notified
or have not been notified at all.
The questions and answers can be found
here when they have been processed and derestricted after a few weeks:
Breaches of subsidy commitments
Members said they were now aware of four cases of countries exceeding their
subsidy commitments. Two new cases discussed in this meeting were about Israel’s
and Norway’s domestic support (AMS), both in 2008.
The committee had already discussed Costa Rica’s AMS domestic support in the
previous meeting in
September, when Poland had also reported that its export subsidies exceeded
the limit in 2002 — since then Poland has joined the EU and now comes under the
AMS is the type of domestic support that distorts trade the most, by raising
prices in the country and stimulating production. It’s sometimes called “Amber
The reasons for the breaches varied and all members concerned said they were
acting to bring their supports within their legally bound limits, although
recent high world prices were partly blamed in some cases.
Israel, one of the cases
also blamed export restrictions introduced by Ukraine and others for worsening
tight supply and further raising prices. It said the breach was partly
technical: exchange rate fluctuations affect the calculations since Israel’s
commitments are in US dollars and not the Israeli shekel. If the 2006 exchange
rate had been used, the 2008 figure would not have exceeded the limit, Israel
added that the reference prices (1986-88), which are also an agreed component of
the calculation, are out of date.
It said its notification for 2009 would fully comply with its commitments.
The 2008 breach reflects “unusual global circumstances and not a change in
domestic production policy”, nor “any real increase of support to the farmers
The questions to Israel came from Australia, Canada, EU, US and Uruguay.
Norway said its 2008 breach
caused by altering the calculation of its Amber Box support to include rye,
oilseeds and goat milk, a result of its October 2008 trade policy review. By
then, it was too late to change support already given or committed, Norway said.
However, the alteration did not cause breaches in other years and a number of
reforms have been introduced to bring the support within Norway’s commitments
from 2009 onwards, it said.
The questions to Norway came from Australia, Canada, EU, US and Uruguay.
Costa Rica (notification documents
and <…/CRI/30) had already explained the reason for exceeding its limits
in the September
and the US asked for further clarification. They urged Costa Rica to stick to
its commitments. India pointed out that Costa Rica is a member of the Cairns
Group, which is seeking steep cuts in subsidies and tariffs.
Costa Rica said a high-level commission had been asked to propose reforms in
the rice sector so as to bring the support within the commitment level. In the
meantime, a decision has already been taken to reduce rice support prices by 18%
which would also reduce production and the two factors together should lead to a
lessening of support amount in 2011, Costa Rica said.
The US said it considers the improvement to be too slow to bring the level
within the limit soon. Also expressing concern with Costa Rica’s support levels
were: Thailand, Canada, the EU and Pakistan.
The Cairns Group and G-20 (Australia
and Brazil speaking; groups in agriculture are
they are deeply concerned about the breaches because of the impact these could
have on world markets, on the credibility of the WTO’s multilateral trading
system, and because countries promised to continue reforms in the Uruguay Round
(Art.20 of the Agriculture Agreement) and in the Doha Round.
They acknowledged that the countries concerned had complied with their
obligations to provide the information, allowing the breaches to be discussed,
and urged them to comply.
Supporting the two groups were some of their members — Chile, Colombia, the
Philippines, Argentina, China and Pakistan — and the EU and US.
Ukraine is only the second country to notify export restrictions since 2004
(Kyrgyz Rep notified in 2008). Document
G/AG/N/UKR/5 of 28 October 2010
describes export quotas on various grains, which Ukraine is implementing until
the end of the year.
Ukraine sad the quotas are temporary, designed to prevent shortages resulting
from poor harvests and drought. It said its detailed replies to the questions
would be submitted in writing.
Questions came from the EU, Israel, Japan and the US, with additional
concerns from Switzerland. They sought details on the production and marketing
situation, how the quotas work, how Ukraine has complied with the requirement to
consider the impact on other countries, how the restriction ties in with a
reported export deal with Russia, whether some countries are exempt from the
quotas, and whether recent reports that the quotas will be extended beyond the
end of the year are true.
The US said that its own figures suggest Ukraine is producing considerably
more grain in 2010 than it can consumer and asked whether lower domestic prices
caused by the export quotas would discourage domestic production and cause more
shortages in the future.
Under WTO rules, countries can restrict exports of agricultural products but
only temporarily and they have to comply with
GATT Article XI (ie,
11), in this case paragraph 2(a), and with Article 12 of the Agriculture
These require the country restricting exports to take into account the impact on
importing countries’ food security, to notify the WTO as soon as possible, and
as far in advance as possible, to be prepared to discuss the restriction with
importing countries and to supply them with detailed information when asked for
Most of the other questions and answers dealt with details of various
programmes or measures. The US provided lengthy replies to questions about its
latest notification on domestic support for 2008, the first year of the new Farm
Act, which included several new or revised programmes.
Brazil and the EU cited a recent dispute ruling to disagree with the US that
“counter-cyclical payments” received by cotton producers should be considered
New Zealand, supported by Australia and the EU, continued to question
Canada’s insistence that its dairy policies do not restrict trade.
Australia continued to question countries that are behind schedule in
submitting notifications. This time the countries concerned were China, Egypt,
India, Rep. Korea and Turkey. They said they would notify as soon as possible.
The World Food Programme (WFP) reminded the committee of two ponts:
- “The world needs sustained commitment to food security through both
development and humanitarian action.”
- Global economic recovery through growth will be essential but will not be
enough to eliminate hunger within “an acceptable period of time”.
“The number of people experiencing hunger has declined from 1.2 billion in
2009 to 925 million in 2010,” the WFP reported. “After increasing from 2006 to
2009, due to high food prices and the global economic crisis, the decrease is
encouraging. But hunger remains a critical issue for countries around the world.
“Volatile food prices, storms, floods, earthquakes and conflicts have plunged
tens of millions into vulnerability just in the last eight months. With the
devastating earthquake in Haiti, life threatening drought in Sahel and epic
level flooding in Pakistan, the Philippines, and China, we saw the washing away
and disruption of livelihoods and access to food of more than 50 million people
in these countries alone,” WFP said.
The committee also saw presentations from the EU on its latest policies on
food aid and development assistance. And it heard a presentation from the WTO
Secretariat on its updated paper (G/AG/W/42/Rev.13)
prepared for members to follow up on the
Marrakesh Decision on net food importing developing and
least-developed countries (paragraph 6).
After the committee meeting, delegations and members of the Secretariat
attended a briefing session (coming soon) by David Nabarro,
the UN Secretary General’s special representative for food security and
Members’ agricultural exports p>
The Secretariat presented a new paper on countries’ shares in agricultural
exports of 22 products,
G/AG/W/76. Although the paper is partly designed
for technical consultations on identifying “significant exporters”, which has
implications for notification requirements on exports, it provides a
comprehensive picture of the development of shares in world exports.
The statistics cover: the Uruguay Round base period (1986-1990) for export
subsidy reductions; 1995; and 2000 to the most recent year for which data are
available — 2007 for all products except for sugar (2008) and fruit and
The Secretariat said that broadly, the main findings it reported to the
committee in November 2009 remain unchanged, particularly for total world
exports of all agricultural products, rice, oilseeds, butter and butter oil,
skim milk powder, cheese, other milk products, bovine meat, pig meat, poultry
World exports of wheat and wheat flour increased by 30% in volume terms since
the base period. Similarly, world exports of coarse grains increased by 39% in
volume terms over the same period.
In 2008, sugar exports remained slightly below their 2006 and 2007 levels in
volume terms, with no new exporters above the 5% threshold for defining
World exports of fruit increased more than 6-fold in value terms since the
base period, and some members gained importance: for example, China and Mexico
are shown as exceeding the 5% threshold; and Costa Rica, Honduras and the
Philippines are at around and below 2%.
Likewise, vegetable exports grew nearly 7-fold in value terms since the base
period, with China gaining a more significant share.
The Secretariat also noted:
- a 3-fold increase of world vegetable oils exports in volume terms; the top
exporters in the last year for which data were available (ie, 2007) being
Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina and Brazil
- world oilcake exports have doubled in volume terms; Argentina, Brazil, USA
and India being the top exporters in 2007
- only a marginal (5%) increase in world sheep meat exports in volume terms;
no change in the ranking of top exporters with New Zealand and Australia holding
nearly 90% of world sheep meat exports in 2007
- world live animals exports nearly doubled in value terms; top exporters in
2007 being Canada, EU, Australia, US and Mexico
- a more than 2-fold increase in world egg exports in volume terms; top
exporters in 2007 being China, US, EU, Malaysia, India and Turkey
- wine exports tripled in volume terms; with EU, Chile, Australia, South
Africa, US and Argentina holding over 5% of exports each in 2007
- world tobacco exports doubled in volume terms; with Brazil, EU, US, India
and China holding above 5% of exports each in 2007
- a 74% increase in world cotton exports in volume terms; with US, India and
Uzbekistan being the top exporters in 2007
(Could be changed)