John Adank, who is New Zealand’s ambassador, said the discussion on the proposals tabled so far have been a good start and a constructive step in the talks. Members’ willingness to engage in the deliberations has been encouraging, he said (audio available below).
But he added that some delegations are concerned that isolating these subjects could upset the balance built up in the talks as reflected in the current drafts in agriculture and in the Doha Round as a whole.
The Trade Negotiations Committee oversees all the negotiating subjects in the Doha Round. Its chairperson is Director-General Pascal Lamy.
The objective of recent work in the agriculture negotiations has been to explore whether any parts of the broader agriculture draft could be settled earlier than the rest, and in time for the December 2013 Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia. This follows instructions from the previous conference in Geneva in December 2011.
Consultations in various types of meetings over the past few months have focused on two proposals, the chairperson reported. Some members said they are considering other candidate topics for early agreement. Ambassador Adank urged them to submit their proposals as soon as possible to ensure sufficient time for discussion.
Tariff quota administration
One proposal, from the Agriculture Group of 20 (G-20) developing countries, an alliance in the WTO agriculture talks, would seek early agreement on tighter disciplines for administering tariff-rate quotas (“TRQ administration”) — where duties for quantities inside the quotas are lower than quantities outside — so that the way they are managed does not obstruct trade.
Ambassador Adank said the proposal raised a number of concerns. For example, even if countries accept that the proposal effectively replicates the “stabilized” provisions of the 2008 draft “modalities” text, some argue that it is part of a balance that would be upset if the issue is isolated for early agreement.
He said that he and the negotiators now know more about where members stand on this issue. He has encouraged members to continue to talk among themselves so that they can understand each other’s sensitivities better.
Domestic support and food security
Another proposal from the G-33 group of developing countries — which seeks extra special treatment to protect their poor farmers — envisages early adoption of provisions that would loosen disciplines on domestic support, in order to enhance food security by supporting poor farmers.
The chairperson said the response was varied. Support came from a number of developing countries in the G-33 and Agriculture G-20 groups. All members agreed that food security is important, but some said the proposal should be examined more closely, and some questioned whether this proposal in isolation would imply no disciplines on stockholding. Some argued that the biggest boost to food security would come from reforming agricultural trade by concluding the Doha Round, he reported.
The Secretariat will compile factual information on tariff quotas, export competition and export prohibitions and restrictions. Ambassador Adank said some of these could be completed by the end of the year and the rest early in 2013.
The chairperson said he will not call any further meetings of the negotiating group in 2012, but will continue to consult delegations in late 2012 and early 2013 in order to improve the common understanding of the issues, and to decide when to convene another meeting of the full membership.
Delegates’ comments ranged from optimism that work in agriculture is gaining pace, to pessimism that 2012 has achieved little. They broadly agreed that the efforts to work on selected issues for the December 2013 Ministerial Conference in Bali should be realistic and non-confrontational.
Some saw the agriculture proposals as a sign that the talks are regaining momentum. They described the proposals as “deliverable”.
Some said this also reflects the important role agriculture plays in WTO negotiations. Some said that ultimately, beyond the Bali Ministerial Conference, they need a complete package of agreements in agriculture and other subjects.
Some who described agriculture is sensitive nevertheless said they were approaching the proposals constructively.
Calls for a balance between agriculture and other subjects — including trade facilitation, which some described as the Doha Round topic that stands the best chance of being achieved by the Bali meeting — came from countries with different perspectives on whether agriculture is more or less ambitious than other areas.
Some reiterated issues of concern to them particularly special treatment for developing and least developed countries and for livelihood and food security, and provisions for countries that recently joined the WTO.
Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said:
The chair’s statements:
Modalities : The way or method of doing something — in this case, how to cut tariffs, enlarge quotas and reduce subsidies and support, along with flexibilities to deal with various sensitivities. The core methods are formulas for cutting tariffs and supports, with a number ways of achieving the flexibilities or tightening disciplines. Once the modalities have been agreed, countries can apply the formulas to tariffs on thousands of products and to various support programmes.