The meetings, starting in the third week of February and expected to end in early March — the actual dates still to be announced — are described as purely technical. The purpose, stressed the talks’ chairperson, will not be to negotiate at this stage, but to improve members’ understanding of practices and policies currently in place around the world.
This series of meetings will be purely to share information, without affecting countries’ negotiating positions or their rights and obligations in the WTO, said the chairperson, Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand (audio below).
They would then be in a better position to discuss the proposal itself and to assess its implications, he said. He urged members to move swiftly, and avoid procedural “wrangling”, because time is running short for deciding on this and other issues that could be earmarked for agreement at the 3–6 December 2013 Ministerial Conference in Bali.
At the previous ministerial conference in Geneva in December 2011, WTO members agreed 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 Bali conference.
The proposal was submitted by the G-33 group in November 2012 and discussed in the last meeting in January. The group — which is seeking special treatment for developing countries to support their poor farmers, with Indonesia as the coordinator — sees this as a Doha Round topic for possible early agreement in Bali.
It proposes amending the Agriculture Agreement to loosen disciplines on domestic support, notably on public stockholding in order to enhance food security by supporting poor farmers. It draws on the text in Annex B of the December 2008 draft “modalities”, the main agriculture draft currently on the table.
So far, 23 members have replied to a questionnaire on their public stockholding for food security and domestic food aid programmes. The series of technical meetings will allow members to explain the information they have supplied and to ask each other questions. Chairperson Adank has urged other members to send in their replies.
Delegates who spoke supported the process and recognized that time is running short.
Some said the issue needs to be considered with real-life information about how countries implement stockholding for food security, what the constraints are, how they would intend to use the G-33 proposal and how that would solve the constraints developing countries currently face.
Some said members should avoid abstract discussions about the wording of the G-33 proposal without first having a better understanding of the facts. Some said countries with questions should submit them in advance so that officials in capitals can prepare answers.
Several called for a clearer timetable of meetings and topics to be discussed over the coming months so that delegates based in Geneva and in the capitals can prepare better and decide when to travel. Ambassador Adank said a clearer picture of what will be needed will emerge once the technical meetings start.
Speakers included: Egypt, the G-33 (Indonesia speaking), Paraguay, Argentina, Australia, EU, Philippines, Barbados, Rep. Korea, Turkey.
Technical information-sharing meetings on the stockholding proposal until early March, dates 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.