WTO: 2012 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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explanation in “Understanding the WTO”

MINUTES:

The committee, which comprises all 157 WTO members, also continued to consider ways of improving the way information is shared and consultations are held among members on export restrictions, a particular concern of countries that rely on food imports. In one specific case, members asked whether Ukraine is planning to limit wheat exports — Ukraine said it is not. (Some details below.)

Some also continued to object to Ukraine’s intention to renegotiate a number of its agricultural and non-agricultural import tariffs.

China repeated its complaint about the EU failing to recognize its substantial interest in EU poultry import tariff commitments, which would give it the right to negotiate the EU’s intention to alter the commitment. It also said that its farmers will suffer because the EU is planning to replace its poultry import tariffs with a tariff quota (where tariffs are higher on quantities outside the quota than inside), which would limit China’s exports. The EU repeated that it followed WTO rules on identifying countries with a substantial interest to negotiate the change, and that China did not indicate its interest in the 90-day period allowed. See last meeting.

The committee heard that total food aid monitored by the World Food Programme continues to decline. In 2011, global food aid deliveries fell 31% compared to 2010, to 4.1 million tonnes, the lowest level since 1990, according to the programme. (See Secretariat document G/AG/W/42/Rev.15, 23 pages.)

And some members urged others to eliminate their export subsidies by 2013 as prescribed in the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration (paragraph 6). Others said the declaration only envisaged eliminating export subsidies as part of a deal concluding the Doha Round negotiations, which are still deadlocked.

 

Some details

One of the “regular” Agriculture Committee’s key responsibilities is to see how countries are complying with their commitments on subsidies and market access and to discuss issues that arise. Since the last meeting, 33 new notifications were received, delegates were told. Members can and do 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.

 

Possible and actual commitment breaches

Costa Rica said it is reforming its rice support programme but is still unable to bring its support levels within the limits it has committed because of a ruling by its administrative court. Nor could it say when it could achieve that. The US, Australia, Canada and Pakistan continued to express concerns (see last meeting).

Thailand was asked numerous questions, particularly by the US, about its rice price support programme and whether subsidies are involved, but said it is still compiling the information. The questions covered various details but also asked how Thailand will be able to cover the cost of releasing the rice — which the US and Pakistan said was bought at 40% above the market price — without using export subsidies. (In its WTO commitment, Thailand has agreed not to use export subsidies.)

Concerns were also expressed by Canada, the Philippines, the EU and China.

The EU was accused of exceeding its export subsidy commitments on sugar because some of the quantities licence for export in particular years spill over into subsequent years. The EU denied this saying the exports licences issued in each year are within the limit and that the EU always monitors its subsidy commitments on the basis of the licences issued rather than the physical exports.

Brazil, Australia, Thailand, Colombia, Argentina and China said the commitment applies to actual quantities shipped in a particular year, not the licences issued. They said Eurostat figures show that this exceeded the export subsidy quantity limit that the EU had agreed (ie, “bound”) and affected market conditions.

Indonesia continued to be questioned about various measures it has introduced on horticultural and livestock imports. New Zealand, the US, Thailand, Rep Korea, the EU, Canada and the Philippines expressed concern. Some queried whether quantities are being restricted under an import licensing system.

Indonesia offered some preliminary details about the measures and the status of their implementation, including notifications to some other WTO Committees. It said it would pass the questions on for a detailed reply later.

The subjects of other questions, many asking for details to be explained, included: domestic support programmes in Brazil, Canada (including its ice cream promotion initiative), Moldova, Nepal, Norway, Oman, Panama, Ukraine, the US, Armenia and New Zealand; market access in Rep Korea, Norway and Chinese Taipei; export subsidies and food aid in Australia, Brazil, India, the US; industrial policies in Brazil and Indonesia; and India’s overdue domestic support notifications.

The chairperson noted that the majority of members are behindhand in submitting notifications on their agricultural trade measures and suggested members consider how to make notifications more punctual. She said she would consult members on what to do, including the possibility of working with developing countries.

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Export restrictions and transparency

Members were still concerned about the possibility that Ukraine might restrict wheat exports because media reports said it might do so from 15 November, despite Ukraine’s denial.

Concerns or questions came from Australia, the EU, Japan, the US and Rep Korea. Ukraine said that it will follow WTO provisions if action is necessary.

Meanwhile, in informal consultations members considered ideas for improving the information that they share with each other through notifications to the WTO, if they intend to use export restrictions.

Some noted that since 1995, when the WTO was created, only 16 export restrictions have been notified Art.12 of the Agriculture Agreement requires this to be done in advance. Many more export restrictions have actually been introduced in that period, they said.

Members also discussed informally and formally how to improve transparency in other areas.

They continued their work on “significant exporters”. This is an issue that contributes to transparency by requiring the listed countries to provide information on relevant export volumes so that the committee can monitor any potential use of export subsidies. The list is out of date but members differ over how to alter the listed products and exporters.

The US also proposed modernizing instruction on how information on domestic support is notified. For example the present instructions date back to 1995 and include the recommendation that the notifications should be on “diskettes”. Some delegations supported the proposal, but others were more cautious, warning against acting in a way that would upset members’ rights and obligations under the Agriculture Agreement.

Want more?

See:

  • Members’ participation in the normal growth of world trade in agricultural products, G/AG/W/32/Rev.13 (84 pages)

 

Chairperson: Ms Emalene Marcus-Burnett (Barbados)

 

Next meetings

(Could be changed)

2013:

  • 26 March 2013
  • 4 September 2013
  • 12 November 2013

 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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