WTO: 2011 NEWS ITEMS

AGRICULTURE: FORMAL MEETING

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NOTE:
THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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MINUTES:

They also heard from Costa Rica on the latest developments in its efforts to rein back its domestic support to within its committed levels, and replies from a number of countries to queries about their latest notifications on a range of issues.

They revised the list of countries having to notify their exports as significant exporters of particular products, and they added three countries to the list of net food importing developing countries.

All of this came under the committee’s key responsibility of receiving notifications from WTO members on how they are applying their commitments on market access, domestic support, export subsidies and other topics in agriculture, and to discuss these when issues arise. 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:

Members also paid tribute to Valéria Csukasi, the longest serving WTO Agriculture Committee chairperson, whose four years in office saw significant improvements to the way notifications are handled and improved transparency. At the end of the meeting she handed over to Mr Jonas Skei of Norway.

 

Some details

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.

Export restrictions

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kyrgyz Republic and Moldova have now joined Ukraine in notifying their export restrictions. Ukraine said its government had just decided to extend its export quotas on grain from 31 March to July.

The notifications are:

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 Agreement.

These require the restricting country 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 it.

The countries expressing concern — the EU (which also reported on bilateral consultations with Ukraine), US, Israel, Japan and Switzerland — praised the four for notifying their measures but asked for evidence that importing countries’ concerns had been taken into account.

They objected (the EU “deplored”) the increased use of these measures, which they said endangered trade flows, hurt importing countries, prevented domestic farmers in the restricting countries from receiving market prices and discouraged investment in those countries.

The EU said it had understood that Ukraine would replace export quotas with export taxes on 1 April, and was disappointed that this was now not taking place, but also opposed any form of restraint including export taxes.

The three countries present (Moldova was absent) said their restrictions were necessary to deal with shortages and possible social unrest and that the impact on other countries would be small because they depend on imports or their exports are normally small. Kyrgyz Rep. said its restrictions only apply to hay and animal feed. Ukraine said the quotas did allow some grains to be exported.

 

Breaches of subsidy commitments

Costa Rica’s breached domestic support (AMS) commitment was first discussed in the September 2010 meeting and again in November.

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 Box” support.

Costa Rica described in some detail its recent decisions to convert the present support, which is mainly for rice, into programmes that will allow it to stay within its Amber Box limits (including a notionally small or “de minimis” permitted amount), some of them moved into the “Green Box” (not directly affecting prices or production and minimally distorting trade or not distorting at all).

Members asked when this would take effect, and Costa Rica said it would clarify this at a future meeting.

 

Other issues

Most of the other questions and answers dealt with details of various programmes or measures, including tariff quotas and why some were unfilled, and details of domestic support programmes. New Zealand, Australia, the EU, Pakistan and Argentina questioned whether levies on imports that the US is to charge under its National Dairy Promotion and Research Program imposes unequal burdens on with unequal benefits for them when compared to domestic products. These questions were asked a short notice and the US said it would pass the concerns on to its capital.

 

Net food importers

Background

Grenada, Maldives and Swaziland have been added to the list of net food-importing developing countries (document series G/AG/5 and revisions ).

Listed countries and least-developed countries come under a 1994 ministerial decision to ensure that agricultural trade reform does not harm their interests, to monitor the situation, and in some cases to allow them special treatment.

All three countries provided data to show they qualified. In Maldives’ case, the country asked to be listed since it has now “graduated” from being a least-developed country.

 

Significant exporters

Following several rounds of consultations, including two in 2011, chairperson Valéria Csukasi decided to follow the desire of most members to update the list of significant exporters in a range of products according to the methods those members favoured.

Significant exporters were defined in 1995 as countries whose share of total world exports in particular products exceeds 5%, and are required to notify their export amounts in those products, even if they have not subsidized the exports. This first update of the list reflects changes in market shares, with some countries losing their 5% shares in some products and others — such as China — gaining them.

India did not agree with the update and objected to the chairperson “unilaterally” taking the decision. Ms Csukasi said the original document G/AG/2 instructed the chair to establish the list (“A list of Members that are significant exporters for the purposes of this notification requirement and of the products concerned shall be established by the Chairman following consultation as appropriate and shall be reviewed after two years”).

It would not be fair to ask countries whose share is less than 5% to continue notifying their exports, nor would it be fair to exempt countries whose share has risen above 5% from notifying, she said.

  

Next meetings

(Could be changed)

2011

  • 23 June
  • 29 September
  • November

Chairperson: Ms Valéria Csukasi, Uruguay, handing over to Mr Jonas Skei, Norway

 Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

• Amber box

• Blue box

• de minimis

• Green box

• notification

• overall trade-distorting domestic support (OTDS)

• tariff quota

> More jargon: glossary

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