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27 March 2000
Talks reach swift agreement on 'Phase 1'
Agriculture negotiations: 23-24 March 2000

In their first meeting on 23–24 March, WTO agriculture negotiators reached quick agreement on the timetable for the first phase of negotiations.

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WTO members will submit proposals setting out negotiating objectives by the end of this year — with some flexibility allowing new or more detailed proposals early in 2001 — to enable all governments enough time to examine them and take stock at a meeting in March 2001.

Delegates also agreed to conduct technical work on agricultural subsidies and protection within the framework of Article 20 of the Agriculture Agreement (see below), and to hold negotiating sessions in June, September, November 2000 and possibly January 2001.

"The meeting was constructive and businesslike," said WTO Director-General Mike Moore. "Delegates had clearly done their homework. They’d found out from each other exactly what could be achieved and spoke almost as one voice. Several said they would have preferred the talks to go faster or to give them more time, or for the talks to be organized differently, but they didn’t dwell on this and so they reached consensus swiftly.

"This is the WTO working at its best. The hard bargaining still lies ahead, and I’m sure that will be much more difficult. But the goodwill shown at this meeting is a good omen for the future," he said.

"It’s also clear that delegations have not allowed their differences over picking a chairperson to obstruct the negotiations," Mr Moore added.

The new negotiations on agriculture have to start this year under the deal struck at the end of the 1986–94 Uruguay Round of multilateral trade talks. It is written into Article 20 of the WTO Agriculture Agreement, part of the Uruguay Round package.

WTO members have not yet agreed on a chairperson for the negotiations, and under an interim solution agreed by the WTO General Council, Ambassador Roger Farrell of New Zealand, the chairperson of the Goods Council, presided over the 23–24 March meeting.

General Council chairperson Kňre Bryn and his Goods Council counterpart, Ambassador Farrell, are continuing consultations with member governments on a chairperson for agriculture. Ambassador Bryn has said he hopes to have agreement on this by the next meeting.

The decision reached on 24 March deals with the "first phase" of the negotiations and contains three parts (see text below):

Technical work: countries need information on what’s been happening in agriculture and the effects of the current round of reductions in subsidies and protection, in order to negotiate the next stage. This is also required under Article 20 of the Agriculture Agreement. The secretariat will compile the factual information and has been assigned a set of tasks for the next meeting at the end of June 2000.

Date for receiving proposals: countries can submit proposals from now until the end of December, with a little flexibility for those who cannot meet that date or want to make additions. In March 2001, the committee will take stock of the proposals, so they must have arrived in time for all members to examine all the proposals by that meeting.

Timetable of meetings: in the first phase these will take place in June, September and November 2000, and March 2001 — all as "special sessions" of the Agriculture Committee, taking place immediately before or after regular committee meetings — with the possibility of an extra January 2001 meeting.

No date has been set yet for concluding the talks.

Countries also made general statements about their positions on agriculture, largely echoing what they had said before Seattle (see also a background document prepared for the Ministerial Conference.

Several Cairns Group members (Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay) also stressed that they consider the agriculture negotiations to be "stand-alone" because they obtained the commitment to resume negotiations in return for the moderate reforms agreed in the Uruguay Round. European countries, Japan, Rep of Korea, and some others said they believe agreement in the agriculture talks will need a comprehensive round that covers a wide range of topics. East and Central European countries said the talks should also look at the special problems of countries in transition, and how to deal with domestic subsidy commitments (which are made in current prices) when countries experience high rates of inflation. Many developing countries (including some Cairns Group members) said their priority is dealing with the special problems of developing countries and net food importers.

The next meeting will be on June 29 and 30.

For more information, see the WTO website www.wto.org
and in particular background briefing notes for the 1999 Seattle Ministerial Conference

The decision
24 March 2000

1. The following programme and arrangements for the first phase of the negotiations under Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture was agreed:

(a) that work within the framework of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of Article 20 would be based on technical papers and submissions to be contributed by interested participants, as well as on the basis of information and data to be prepared by the Secretariat at the request of the Committee;

(b) that negotiating proposals would be submitted by participants by the end of December 2000, on the understanding that there would be flexibility for the submission of further or more detailed proposals thereafter, provided that such submissions are tabled sufficiently in advance of a stock-taking exercise, covering all proposals submitted, to be undertaken at a March 2001 meeting of the Special Session;

(c) that appropriate provision would be made in the agendas of each of the Special Session meetings for the discussion of technical papers submitted and proposals made;

(d) that the Special Session meetings would be held back-to-back with the regular meetings of the Committee on Agriculture in June, September and November 2000, with the possibility of an additional Special Session meeting being held in the interval prior to the March 2001 stock-taking meeting on the first phase of the negotiations. The timing of such a meeting, provisionally in the last week of January 2001, would be decided by the Chairperson in the light of consultations as appropriate.

2. Various suggestions were made by participants for background technical papers by the Secretariat. Taking account of these suggestions as appropriate, including experience to date in implementing commitments, the following background papers would be made available in advance of the next meeting of the Special Session in June:

(a) revised and updated background papers based on notifications on tariff quotas, domestic support, and export subsidies, as well as a table showing Members’ usage of domestic support categories, export subsidies and export credits in a common currency;

(b) an updated background paper on the agricultural trade performance of developing countries;

(c) a background paper in the context of Article 20(b);

(d) a background paper on implementation of the least developed and net food-importing developing countries’ Decision.

The mandate
Article 20 of the Agriculture Agreement
Continuation of the Reform Process

Recognizing that the long-term objective of substantial progressive reductions in support and protection resulting in fundamental reform is an ongoing process, Members agree that negotiations for continuing the process will be initiated one year before the end of the implementation period, taking into account:

the experience to that date from implementing the reduction commitments; the effects of the reduction commitments on world trade in agriculture;non-trade concerns, special and differential treatment to developing-country Members, and the objective to establish a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system, and the other objectives and concerns mentioned in the preamble to this Agreement; and what further commitments are necessary to achieve the above mentioned long-term objectives.