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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The committee, which consists of all WTO members, also discussed some countries’ concerns that standards on health and other issues are becoming new trade barriers. And it heard questions and answers on members’ agricultural subsidies and other measures as reported to the WTO, the most detailed being on China’s domestic support.
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.
Food security and net food importers
In a discussion on the situation of net food importing developing and least developed countries, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the world’s food import bill is heading for a new peak of US$1.29 trillion this year, an unprecedented surge of US$250 billion, with all food categories registering double-digit percentage increases (document G/AG/GEN/98 and correction G/AG/GEN/98/Corr.1)
The World Bank also reported (document G/AG/GEN/96) that “price-insulating policies by [WTO] members during the crises have magnified price movements,” an assessment that sparked a critical response from some delegations.
Argentina reacted particularly to the World Bank’s suggestion that “trade policy responses — including export restrictions and import barrier reductions — appear to have been important influences on price levels and volatility in recent years,” and “to minimize the impact of future price spikes, clear commitments to avoiding the use of export restrictions on food will be needed. This should be particularly applied to humanitarian aid, as this will be of critical importance to maintain price stability in periods of food stress.”
The World Bank’s focus is wrong, and overlooks the destabilizing impact of subsidies and other policies in rich countries which distort agricultural trade markets, Argentina said.
Although this is a regular annual item on the committee’s agenda, this year delegates had in their minds proposals to include food security on the agenda of the 15-17 December WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva and the wider concerns raised by the G-20 group of world leaders.
Several members welcomed the G-20s creation of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), hosted by the FAO and with the participation of a number of international organizations including the WTO (www.wto.org/foodsecurity).
One of the proposals for the Ministerial Conference came from the net food importing developing countries and African and Arab groups, presented by Egypt.
Discussed at a specially convened meeting the previous day, the proposal would ask WTO members’ ministers to recognize that ensuring food security for their populations is governments’ first priority. It proposed that the Ministerial Conference direct the General Council to set up a comprehensive work programme for least developed and net food-importing developing countries, to:
- ensure these countries have access to adequate supplies of basic foodstuffs
- consider new rules to exempt them from other WTO members’ export restrictions, particularly major exporters
- help these countries have access to trade finance for example through a revolving fund offering concessional terms
Most members broadly supported the idea of a work programme, but several needed more time to consider the proposal, which they had only just received, and several had reservations about the detail. No decision was taken.
Domestic support and other policies
Domestic support. Once again, the longest discussions were about information that some members submitted recently on their domestic support, particularly China’s latest notification (G/AG/N/CHN/21), with questions from Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Japan and the US.
Replies from China and some others were technical and detailed, and the members who asked questions said they would need to study the replies. Some said the process should be streamlined, with short oral replies and longer written details submitted in advance.
Standards as trade barriers. Argentina complained that a number of countries are using health and other technical standards as new barriers to trade, arbitrarily, without being based on science or international standards. Support for the complaint came from Canada, Brazil, the Philippines, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and the US, although some said they still consider market distortions caused by subsidies and trade barriers to be a more serious problem.
Costa Rica continues to exceed its committed ceilings for trade-distorting domestic support (AMS) for rice (see last meeting and earlier news stories). Costa Rica said it still cannot report when it will bring its support within its agreed limits. Canada, the US, Australia and Pakistan said this is worrying.
Rep. Korea’s domestic support (G/AG/N/KOR/43), by contrast, was praised by Australia because the country is moving away from market-distorting support to “Green Box” types, which cause no or minimal distortion.
Also questioned were: Switzerland about its compulsory levy on marketed milk, Canada on its ice cream promotion initiative, Brazil’s support for rice, China’s cotton reserves purchasing system, Ecuador’s import licensing, Egypt’s import ban on cotton, Thailand’s rice procurement policies, and domestic support in Canada, China, India, Japan, Jordan, Rep. Korea, Nepal, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
These were among topics discussed by the committee, whose key responsibility is monitoring how the Agriculture Agreement is being implemented — including 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.
All the questions and answers on members’ specific agricultural trade measures can be found here, when they have been processed and derestricted after a few weeks.
Significant exporters and improving discussions
Chairperson Jonas Skei reported on his continuing consultations on “significant exporters” (see last meeting and earlier news stories) and on possible ways to invigorate the committee’s work. No conclusions have been reached and the consultations will continue.
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Chairperson: Mr Jonas Skei (Norway)
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