The chairperson, who is New Zealand’s ambassador, was reporting on consultations he has held with members since the full membership last met on 28 September (audio below). The objective has been to explore whether any parts of a considerably broader Doha Round draft outline agreement in agriculture could be settled earlier than the rest and in time for the December 2013 Ministerial Conference in Indonesia, as instructed by the previous conference in Geneva in December 2011.
A proposal from the 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. Some countries argue that the way the quotas are managed (including the methods for allocating the quotas to importers or exporters, and various other administrative practices), can be too cumbersome and hamper exporters’ ability to access markets.
The group has also proposed that the Secretariat compile information on the use of tariff quotas and on export competition (export subsidies and other export measures that could contain subsidies). The G-10 group, which argues that agricultural products cannot be treated the same way as industrial goods, has also asked for a Secretariat paper on export restrictions.
More recently the G-33 group of developing countries — which seeks extra special treatment to protect their poor farmers, with Indonesia as the coordinator — has also proposed adopting provisions that would loosen domestic support disciplines in order to enhance food security by supporting poor farmers.
Some members said they are considering other candidate topics for early agreement.
The discussion in the meeting, about the two proposed topics for early agreement, showed that while members understand the importance of the topics, some are concerned that isolating these subjects could upset the balance built up in the current overall drafts in agriculture and the Doha Round as a whole.
Tariff quota administration
Ambassador Adank said he was encouraged by members’ “willingness to engage” in the consultations on the proposal for managing tariff quotas. He said it showed members from the full range of positions in the talks recognize that agriculture remains crucial, “even if the consultations have predictably revealed a range of sensitivities” about being selective.
On the G-20’s proposal for managing tariff quotas: “It’s fair to say that I have not heard ‘no’ from any member on the idea that TRQ Administration might form part of a broader range of Doha-related decisions taken forward next year, even if it’s not possible to say that there has been an unreserved ‘yes’ to the specific proposal of the G-20,” he said.
In the meeting, members of the G-20 and Cairns Group supported the proposal, even though they said the proposed disciplines would not be as ambitious as they wanted. The proposal envisages a number of measures for sharing information and monitoring how well quotas are used. If a quota is persistently under-filled, the importing government would have to apply one of a prescribed set of methods for administering quotas aimed at removing impediments.
Some countries cautioned that although the provision is “stable” (close to being agreed) within the broader agriculture draft (the 2008 “modalities” — see also this explanation of “modalities”), on its own it would not reflect the balance on market access that was negotiated.
Stock-piling for food security in developing countries
The G-33’s food security proposal seeks early approval for new provisions allowing government stockholding and purchases from poor farmers at supported prices to be excluded from calculations of the type of domestic support whose use has to be limited because it distorts markets.
(Technically, this would amend the definition of “Green Box” subsidies, which are considered not to distort trade, or to do so minimally, and are therefore allowed without limit. See Annex B of the 2008 draft, in the section on “public stockholding for food security purposes”.)
The group says this is necessary in order to strengthen food security by supporting poor farmers and argues that the provisions are also “stable” in the broader 2008 draft — there are no square brackets around it, indicating the text is more or less acceptable, it says.
All speakers in the meeting accepted the importance of food security, particularly in the present climate of high prices. But their reactions to the proposal differed. G-33 members and some G-20 members supported the proposal — the text inserted into the 2008 draft came from the G-20.
Others said the issue is complex and needs to be examined closely. Some said this is particularly the case when the proposed amendment is isolated from the rest of the package, that it would imply no disciplines on stockholding and that proponents should explain how the provision should be used. Others said that the provisions still has not been discussed multilaterally in enough depth. Some argued reforming agricultural trade by concluding the Doha Round would give food security the biggest boost.
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. He urged members to avoid “negotiating too much” in advance about the content of the papers. Rather, they should wait to see what the papers contain and base their comments and questions on them, he said.
Further consultations, secretariat papers in late 2012 or early 2013. Another meeting, time and form to be announced
Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said:
The chair’s statements:
This was an informal agriculture negotiations meeting of the full membership, officially an “Informal Open-Ended Special Session” of the Agriculture Committee.
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.