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:

These were among over 30 issues that were the subject of questions on how fellow-members are implementing their commitments on domestic support, market access, and export subsidies under the Agriculture Agreement.

The committee, which comprises all WTO members, also discussed briefly some of the issues raised in informal consultations earlier in the week, on issues related to the information they share with each other, a vital part of the committee’s responsibility to monitor how they are keeping their promises.

At the beginning of the meeting, outgoing chairperson Jonas Skei (Norway) said he appreciated the contributions delegations had made to the committee’s work while he chaired it. He regretted that little was concluded in that time, but was encouraged that work was progressing on the right path.

He also urged them to “spend less time on discussing legal provisions and more time discussing members’ policies; less time on trying to define what the secretariat and the chair may or may not do, and more time on the real concerns between members”.

“You’ve made a happy man very old,” he joked before handing over to Emalene Marcus-Burnett (Barbados).

 

Some details

The “regular” Agriculture Committee’s task is to monitor how governments are implementing their obligations under the agreement and discuss issues that arise. Its meetings are separate from the current negotiations (www.wto.org/agnegs) which take place in separate “special sessions”.

The questions members ask each other in the review of notifications, and their replies, come under one of the committee’s key responsibilities of overseeing how countries are complying with their commitments on subsidies and market access.

Since the last meeting, 48 new notifications were received, delegates were told. Most of the questions in this meeting were about these notifications, some followed up on queries in previous meetings. 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.

 

Domestic support

By far the most questions and comments were about the domestic support programmes of Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, the EU and its 27 member states, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Paraguay and Saudi Arabia. Most were in response to the latest information that these members have notified to the WTO.

Notifications on domestic support tend to receive the most questions, as in this meeting, because:

  • The programmes are complicated and members want to understand how they work
  • Members want to verify that the support is placed in the right categories. Broadly, if the support distorts markets by supporting prices or production (“Amber Box” support) it has to be within agreed limits. If it does not distort trade (“Green Box” support) it is allowed without limits.
  • Members also want to verify that the trade-distorting Amber Box support is quantified appropriately and classified correctly as being for specific products or for agriculture in general
  • And they want to be able to verify that the Amber Box support is within the WTO agreed limit. Costa Rica’s latest notification continues to confirm that it is exceeding its agreed limit on domestic support resulting from a price-linked support regime used for rice. Document G/AG/N/CRI/40, circulated on 14 May 2012, reports that support for rice was $104 million in 2011, compared to its committed ceiling of just under $16m.

In this meeting Costa Rica said that it cannot say when it will be able again to comply with its commitment. The US, Australia, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Peru, Malaysia, Pakistan and Colombia said they were concerned about the breach and about Costa Rica’s inability to provide any additional information.

Costa Rica replied that it hopes to provide a status report at the next meeting. It has been repeatedly questioned about the breaches since September 2010.

 

Other issues

Among the other issues raised were:

  • Concerns about trade measures that obstruct trade without scientific justification. Argentina has raised this in several previous meetings. This time it said research shows that more-advanced countries can gain market access by meeting standards, at the expense of less developed nations, which struggle to meet the cost of adapting their products. Although these are sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS, www.wto.org/sps) and technical barriers to trade (TBT, www.wto.org/tbt), the Agriculture Committee also has a role, Argentina said. Support came from Cuba, Brazil and Pakistan
  • India’s export restrictions on a range of products: although India said the restrictions, for example on cotton, had been lifted, the US said it was concerned about the disruption caused to markets and urged India to notify any future restrictions. India said WTO agreements do not require notification when exports of products such as cotton are restricted. The EU and Japan were also concerned.
  • Indonesia’s regulations, which would restrict imports of livestock, livestock products and horticultural products. Indonesia said it was postponing the introduction of the regulations. New Zealand, the US, Canada and Japan wanted more information or urged Indonesia to use the time to explain how the measures would comply with WTO commitments and agreements. Canada said that Indonesia, as a member of the G-20 group of leading economies, should observe the group’s commitment to avoid protectionism.

A number of questions were also about market access and export subsidies.

Rep. Korea announced that it had scrapped special safeguards (temporary increases in import duties) on a group of products identified as “other worked grains” — the safeguard was triggered by an increase in imports in 2006 and 2007, under an agreed formula, even though there was almost no domestic production to defend against import surges.

 

Want more?

See:

  • Members’ compliance with notification obligations, G/AG/GEN/86/Rev.10 (8 June 2012, 17 pages)

 

Report on informal consultations, and discussion

The chairperson reported on informal consultations that her predecessor, Jonas Skei, had chaired earlier in the week. These included information on the Secretariat’s efforts to improve online information, a discussion of information to be notified when food exports are restricted, a possible update of the list of “significant exporters”, and an exchange of views related to the notification of market price support.

The list of significant exporters has been discussed in consultations for some time. It contributes to transparency, requiring the listed countries to provide information on export volumes of selected products so that the committee can monitor any potential use of export subsidies.

But it is out of date. Cuba has formally asked to be removed because it is no longer a major exporter of sugar (document G/AG/W/85 of 29 June 2011) and it repeated the request in this meeting. Zimbabwe has previously made a similar request orally for tobacco. India, China, Pakistan, Turkey and the Philippines have proposed adding ethyl alcohol to the list of products. However, members differ over altering the product list, which came from  the 1994 Uruguay Round export subsidy undertakings, and what the implications might be.

 

Chairperson Jonas Skei’s farewell remarks

Excerpts:

“… I want to thank you all for offering me this experience, and for your support throughout. This committee is very dear to my heart, and it has been an honour to serve as chair during the last year.

“There will be no surprise that I would have liked to see more things actually concluded during my time as chair, but at the same time I take some comfort in the fact that I believe we have started on a path that is good and necessary for the committee.

“I have always felt that the CoA [Committee on Agriculture] should be a place where members bring their interests and concerns to the table, and that we can discuss them openly, in order to increase our understanding of each other’s policies, uphold the respect for the rules and commitments, and hopefully resolve disagreements through dialogue.

“I think over the last year we have seen a reinvigoration of this. We still have some ways to go in getting comfortable, I feel, and probably need a bit of fine tuning on how we go about it, but the signs are nonetheless encouraging.

“My parting advice in developing this further would be to spend less time on discussing legal provisions and more time discussing members’ policies; less time on trying to define what the secretariat and the chair may or may not do, and more time on the real concerns between members. I am confident that in going forward this committee will be able to develop further in these respects. […]

“So once again, thank you very much, for your initiative, support and contributions — you have made a happy man very old!”

 

Chairperson: Ms Emalene Marcus-Burnett (Barbados) taking over from Mr Jonas Skei (Norway) at the start of the meeting

 

Next meetings

(Could be changed)

2012:

  • 20 September
  • 14–15 November

 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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