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.

“INFORMAL MEETING” means there are no minutes.

News: agriculture talks

Agriculture negotiations
Modalities phase

The Doha Round

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 The story so far 

2000: Agriculture negotiations launched(March). See backgrounder

2001: Doha Development Agenda launched. Agriculture included (November)

2004: “Framework” agreed (August)

2005: Further agreements in Hong Kong Ministerial Conference (December)

2006: Draft modalities (June)

2007: Revised draft modalities (July)

2007-2008: Intensive negotiations with working documents (September-January)

2008: Revised draft modalities (February, May and July)

2008: The July 2008 package full coverage and the chair’s report

2008: Revised draft modalities (February, May, July and December)

Chairperson John Adank, New Zealand’s ambassador, had called the meeting so that members could share information on their discussions since the last meeting in March. He concluded that after a lull in the talks, delegations’ willingness to examine the new proposals will mean a greater engagement by negotiators, which has been absent for some time.

One of the proposals is a draft “understanding” written in treaty language on the administration of tariff quotas — how imports within the quotas are shared among importers, when duties inside the quotas are lower than on quantities outside.

Brazil, the group’s coordinator, told an informal negotiations meeting that the G-20 considers this to be a subject that could be settled ahead of a fuller agreement on the whole Doha Round package.

The other is a call for new Secretariat studies on tariff quota administration, and on export subsidies and other forms of export competition — export credit and insurance, state trading enterprises and food aid, which can all involve hidden export subsidies.

Brazil said that the G-20’s members have been working on new ideas since agriculture negotiators last met in March, except during the Geneva summer break. They had only just agreed on the text to submit even though Beijing was still examining the tariff quota administration draft. The proposals are still evolving but the group felt it should present something to start with, Brazil said.

Speaking for itself Brazil added that it considers export competition and the linked issue of cotton subsidies to be other contenders for subjects that could be agreed early.

It also said it is looking at ways of moving the negotiations forward on issues related to agriculture but in other committees:



Because the proposals were only circulated at the beginning of the meeting, most members said they still needed time to study them before responding properly. Most also said they are committed to finding ways to move the talks forward, and would therefore respond seriously.

In their preliminary responses, some questioned the selection of issues that could be candidates for early agreement, such as tariff quota administration and export competition. They said these are part of the December 2008 draft “modalities”, which contains a considerable amount of agreement based on a balance of issues. The balance could be upset if these issues were isolated, they said.

Brazil said the approach should not be challenged since ministers had instructed their negotiators to look for potential “early harvest” subjects.

The G-10 (Switzerland speaking) said “export competition” should include export restraints. G-20 members endorsed Brazil’s statement on their behalf. Norway joked that it endorsed the beginning of the statement: “Mr Chairman …”

Chairperson Adank said that clearly another meeting of some kind is needed, although he could not say yet when, or in what form.

Members cannot expect a quick agreement, he added, other than on “Mr Chairman …”



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.



 Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

About negotiating texts:

• bracketed

• “Job document”

• modality, modalities

• schedules

• templates


• Amber box

• Blue box

• box

• de minimis

• distortion

• export competition

• Green box

• pro-rating

• sensitive products

• special products (SP)

• special safeguard mechanism (SSM)

• tariff line

• tariff quota

• the three pillars

> More jargon: glossary
> More explanations

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