> Explanation in “Understanding the WTO”

An unprecedented number of questions were also asked about countries failing to keep up-to-date their notifications on the range of commitments, as the committee began its first examination in a decade on how well the process, known as “notification and review”, can be improved.

The “regular” Agriculture Committee meetings deal with routine WTO work, and not the current negotiations, which take place in separate “special sessions”.


Notifications and review, and related questions

The questions members ask each other under the review of notifications is part of the committee’s key responsibility of overseeing how countries are complying with their commitments. They can also ask about agricultural measures that have not yet been notified or have not been notified at all.

To the US: the new Farm Bill, direct and counter-cyclical payments

A long list of questions posed to the US included:

  • Counter-cyclical payments (where support rises and falls as prices fall and rise): Australia, Brazil and Japan questioned whether the US is justified in continuing to describe these payments as support not given to specific crops (“non-product-specific”). Australia and Brazil cited a WTO dispute ruling, which said part of the payment constituted support for cotton. The US said the payments are based on past history of production and do not require recipients to produce specific crops, or any crops at all, meaning the payments are not specific to any product.

  • Direct payments. Australia, Brazil and Japan queried whether US support paid directly to farmers can be justified as “decoupled income support” — payments that are unrelated to current or future prices and production, putting them in the “Green Box” of supports that do not distort trade, or minimally distort it, which are allowed without limit. They cited the dispute ruling, which said the way the US programme is set up (including the condition that some crops are not produced on base acres) means the payments are not “Green Box”. The US repeated statements made in a November 2007 meeting, that because the payments are based on historically “fixed and unchanging” base acreages and yields.

  • The New Farm Bill’s “Average Crop Revenue Election Programme (ACRE)”. Argentina, Australia and Canada asked for explanations of the programme and whether the US would place the support in the “Amber Box” category (the most distorting, and with limits). The US provided some explanations but said that since actual support under the new programme has not been notified yet, it is too soon to say how it would be notified.

  • China’s concern about poultry. China had previously complained about Section 733 of a 2008 law, which blocked government spending on any procedures to lift an import ban on poultry imports from China. China said it had hoped the problem would be resolved when the law expired, but only two days before this meeting it had learnt that a new law has a Section 727 with the same provisions. The US repeated that the government is talking to relevant authorities in Washington to try to resolve this as soon as possible and added that this issue should stay in the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee, where it has also been raised. (The SPS Committee deals with food safety and animal and plant health.) China asked what it and the US can do to prevent another “Section 7xx” reappearing next year.

Other questions to the US dealt with details of support for dairy and sugar products, food aid, crop insurance, support for bioenergy, crop disaster payments, and a range of notified support programmes. The EU and South Africa were among countries also expressing an interest in the questions and answers even though they had not asked the original questions.

To the EU: export subsidies and data on the value of production and Blue Box

Questions posed to the EU included:

  • Export Subsidies (1). New Zealand, supported by Australia, Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Pakistan, said it was disappointed to see the EU re-introduce export subsidies for dairy products and asked the EU to clarify how long this “temporary” measure would last. The EU said no period has been determined, and that the subsidies are within the EU’s WTO commitments, which it will respect. New Zealand argued that in the current financial crisis key players should not yield to protectionist pressures and called on the EU and US to act responsibly, for the global economy and so that developing countries do not have to face distorted prices.

  • Export Subsidies (2). Referring to an EU notification on export subsidies, Australia, Canada, and the US continued to question the EU about its methods of calculating its commitments after expansion to 27 members. (Because of on-going discussions with other WTO members, the recalculations of the EU’s commitments through a series of expansions have not yet been verified.) The EU explained its method.

  • China and EU quotas. The EU has been negotiating modifying its tariffs and tariff quotas. It continued to defend its refusal to accept China as “a party with substantial interest” and therefore with negotiating rights in three poultry products. China repeated that the EU’s view that there were no significant imports from China in the reference period was unreasonable because the EU banned Chinese imports.

  • Data. Argentina continued to question the EU about data on the value of agricultural production in some of its new member states and Blue Box support per product. (Blue Box supports are essentially distorting supports but with constraints to curb over-production.) Some of this is related to having adequate information for the current negotiations and future commitments, Argentina said. The EU said the question of data is complex but said it would supply what it could. But it added that under the present agreement there is no obligation to supply data on Blue Box support per product. Argentina, Canada, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand disagreed, arguing that Art.18.6 of the Agriculture Agreement allows members to raise and seek information on any issue under the present reform programme.

  • The abolition of Blue Box “set aside”. “Set aside” is a condition of Blue Box requiring farmers not to produce supported crops on part of their land, so that the support is less prone to over-production than if their were no constraints, Argentina asked for explanations about the EU abolishing compulsory set-aside and how the replacement programmes would be classified. The EU said this was part of its move to least distorting Green Box supports in the form of “decoupled” (unrelated to present and future prices and volumes) income payments. Argentina commented that allowing crops to be planted on land that was previously set aside would have an effect on production.

Other questions

These included:

  • Canada on Brazil’s agriculture credit and financing programme;

  • Canada on EU support for pigmeat and beef in Ireland;

  • New Zealand on Chinese Taipei’s temporary cut in tariffs on some food imports (which New Zealand suggested should be made permanent);

  • the US on Thai tariff quotas;

  • Canada on China’s wheat tariff quotas;

  • Australia and New Zealand on Japan’s special safeguard on dairy products;

  • Canada on the Philippines use of the special safeguard;

  • Australia on Chinese Taipei’s use of the special safeguard;

  • The US on the Philippines domestic support for corn (maize) and rice


Overdue notifications

An unprecedented number of questions were asked about overdue notifications, which some delegations pointed out is also relevant for proposals in the current negotiations to strengthen members’ monitoring and surveillance of how commitments are implemented. Delegates said the previous assessment of notification and review was in 1998/99.

Argentina, Australia and Canada questioned the EU, Egypt, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Rep.Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Turkey and the US about their overdue information on a range of subjects. Most replied that they were trying to supply the information quickly.

Comments were largely sympathetic about the difficulties, ranging from a shortage of knowledgeable staff among developing countries to the difficulty of compiling data in federal or decentralized political systems in both developed and developing countries.

An informal discussion produced a number of ideas for how to deal with this, which will be developed further over the coming months. They include various methods of finding out what the problems are such as a questionnaire and workshops, and means of ensuring know-how is preserved and shared in various bureaucracies. The discussion is partly in response to a request from the General Council chairperson to all committees for suggestions on how to reduce delays in notifications.


Implementation issues

The committee has been tasked to examine three Doha Development Agenda items under the heading of “implementation”. These deal with disciplines on export credit and other financing, improving the effectiveness on work under the net-food importing countries decision, and tariff quota administration.

The chairperson has held consultations and as a result the Secretariat will circulate a compendium of relevant documents that have been issued since the committee last reported on these issues to the General Council on 13 June 2006.


Chairperson: Ms Valéria Csukasi (Uruguay)


Next meetings


  • Late June or early July

  • 21 and 22 September

  • 19 and 20 November

 Jargon buster 

• Amber Box: domestic support for agriculture that is considered to distort trade and therefore subject to reduction commitments. Technically calculated as “Aggregate Measurement of Support” (AMS).

• Blue Box: Amber Box types of support, but with constraints on production or other conditions designed to reduce the distortion. Currently not limited.

• notification: a transparency obligation requiring member governments to report trade measures to the relevant WTO body if the measures might have an effect on other members.

special safeguard (SSG): Temporary increase in import duty to deal with import surges or price falls, under provisions that are special to the Agriculture Agreement.

• tariff quota: when quantities inside a quota are charged lower import duty rates, than those outside (which can be high).

> More jargon: glossary

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