This briefing document explains current agricultural issues raised before and in the current negotiations. It has been prepared by the Information and Media Relations Division of the WTO Secretariat to help public understanding about the agriculture negotiations. It is not an official record of the negotiations.
The negotiations began under Article 20 of the Agriculture Agreement
(see box). This says WTO members had to negotiate to continue the reform of agricultural trade.
The direction of the reform was
clearly set out in the article — “substantial progressive reductions
in support and protection resulting in fundamental reform”.
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.
The first phase began in early 2000 and ended with a stock-taking meeting on
26-27 March 2001. Altogether, 126 member governments (89% of the 142 members) submitted 45 proposals and three technical documents. Six negotiating meetings (officially called “Special Sessions” of the Agriculture Committee) were held: in March, June, September and November 2000, and February, March 2001. This first phase consisted of countries submitting proposals containing their starting positions for the negotiations. The meetings discussed each of these proposal in turn.
The proposals received in the first phase covered all major areas of the agriculture negotiations and a few new ones. Many proposals (e.g. from the US, EU, Japan, Switzerland, Mauritius, etc) were “comprehensive”, i.e. they covered a full range of subjects for negotiation. Some other proposals dealt with specific subjects (e.g. each Cairns Group proposal dealt with a different area).
Although the views expressed in the papers and during the Phase 1 meetings were very wide, this was not surprising at that early stage.
In the second phase, the meetings were largely “informal”, meaning that there is no official record except for chairperson’s summaries presented at the formal meetings (i.e. formal “Special Sessions”). The work programme was decided at the March 2001 stock-taking meeting. It set a timetable (later amended) of six informal meetings in May, July, September and December 2001, and February 2002. The September and December 2001 and February 2002 sessions were also followed by formal meetings.
In this phase, the discussions
were by topic, and included more technical details. This was needed
in order to find a way to allow members to develop specific proposals
and ultimately reach a consensus agreement on changes to rules and commitments
in agriculture. Papers presented were not official WTO documents, but
usually off-the-record “non-papers”. Despite the increased complexity,
developing countries continued to participate actively.