Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO's committees and agreements

AGRICULTURE NEGOTIATIONS: BACKGROUNDER
Other market access issues

These now include: food safety, consumer information and labelling, and geographical indications and food quality.

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UPDATED 1 DECEMBER 2004

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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.


Food safety: Phase 2  back to top

(See also material on sanitary and phytosanitary measures — SPS)

One proposal: this needs to be tackled as part of liberalization talks in order to avoid critics who accuse the WTO of requiring governments to force their consumers to accept unsafe food. The proposal is for a written “Understanding” agreed among WTO members. It would do no more than endorse dispute panel and Appellate Body interpretations of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) provisions on precaution. (Some other members question whether this is appropriate as part of the agriculture negotiations rather than under SPS).

Another proposal: Developments in food safety issues since the end of the Uruguay Round negotiations mean the current talks need to deal with food safety. Examples include: new consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms; recent disease outbreaks such as BSE; and toxic substances such as dioxin. These are being examined in other organizations such as the OECD and Codex, and the WTO should coordinate with these other efforts, according to this view.

The discussion: This is the first time this topic has been discussed in the negotiations. All agree that consumers must be protected. All also agree on the need to avoid protectionism in disguise. The discussion is about whether the SPS Agreement (specially Article 5.7, which deals with risk and precaution) is clear enough to maintain that balance appropriately. Some countries support clarifying it through an understanding that would also send the right signals to consumers. Others say this should be discussed in the SPS and Technical Barriers to Trade committees, and not in the agriculture negotiations.

Phase 2 papers or “non-papers” from: Japan, and the EU

 

Food safety: preparations for ‘modalities’  back to top

Advocates of including this in the negotiations say members should not rely on dispute rulings, but use the negotiations to clarify essential elements, taking Appellate Body and dispute panel reports into account. In particular: measures should be proportionate to the food safety target; they should not discriminate; they should be applied consistently; costs and benefits of alternative measures should be compared; scientific data should be re-evaluated as new information emerges; measures should be based on science. Others counter that this is a Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) issue and not one for the agriculture negotiations. Some complain that in general, SPS measures are already replacing tariffs as unwelcome trade barriers.

 

Consumer information and labelling: Phase 2  back to top

(See also non-trade concerns)

Advocates argue that voluntary or mandatory labelling would be a way to deal with some non-trade concerns — such as animal welfare or information on genetically modified organisms — without distorting trade. It could help consumers make their choices on such things as animal welfare and sustainable production of plants, and by giving consumers confidence in labelled products it would also improve market access, they say.

Some advocates say they are pursuing this subject in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee. They link progress in the TBT Committee with progress in the agriculture negotiations, a point several other members object to.

A number of other countries say this is not a subject for the agriculture negotiations, but one for the TBT Committee, and in the case of food safety, other bodies such as the WTO SPS Committee and the food labelling committee of Codex Alimentarius. Several also object to mandatory labelling.

Specifically on animal welfare, one proposal envisages dealing with this non-trade concern through a combination of labelling and Green Box domestic support criteria — the latter to compensate for effects on costs or production as a result of complying with animal welfare standards. Some countries counter that animal welfare is mainly a concern in wealthy nations and better welfare can sometimes be achieved without subsidies.

Papers or “non-papers” from: the EU, Switzerland.

 

Mandatory labelling: preparations for ‘modalities’  back to top

Advocates say this is needed to provide information for consumers, and to cover such issues as production methods and traceability. Others say labelling is a technical barriers to trade (TBT) issue, not agriculture.

 

Geographical indications and food quality  back to top

(See also TRIPS material)

A geographical indication is a term used to describe both the origin and characteristics of a product. In the WTO, geographical indications are discussed under three headings, only one of these being directly part of the agriculture negotiations.

(In the Intellectual Property — TRIPS — Council, members are negotiating a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits. They are also debating whether the “higher” level of protection currently given to wines and spirits could be extended to other products — including whether there is a mandate to discuss this. Some countries link the extension under TRIPS with the agriculture negotiations, an idea some others staunchly reject.)

In the agriculture negotiations, a third aspect of this subject has been developed. It deals with negotiating over specific terms that are currently used elsewhere and in at least some cases may have become generic, so that they would be reclaimed for use only by producers in the original geographical area. As a related issue, there have also been proposals on labelling.

In the negotiations, the subject issue has been controversial. A number of members say geographical indications should be addressed in the agriculture negotiations. Some others strongly oppose this, arguing that they should be discussed in the TRIPS Council and Technical Barriers to Trade Committee (which deals with issues such as labelling).

Proposals on food quality submitted in Phase 1

  • EU: food quality: improvement of market access opportunities G/AG/NG/W/18
  • EU: comprehensive negotiating proposal G/AG/NG/W/90

Phase 2 papers or “non-papers” from: The EU, and Switzerland.

(The EU also included this subject in its comprehensive “modalities” proposal submitted in January 2003.)

 

The revised first draft ‘modalities’ on ‘other’ market access issues  back to top

The draft simply says further consideration is needed for non-trade concerns and these “other” market access issues: geographical indications, food safety and labelling.

  

The draft frameworks  back to top

(see Cancún ‘framework’ proposals)

The US-EU draft and the Pérez del Castillo and Derbez texts simply list these (or some of these) as issues to be discussed. The African Union/ACP/least-developed countries call for developed countries to deal with sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade and other non-tariff barriers.



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