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> More on the modalities phase

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The commitments, along with revised rules, will form the final deal of the agriculture negotiations and will give the outcome real commercial impact.

Members are only at the start of what could be a lengthy technical process. At this stage, the aim is to identify questions on what data will be needed and when. Members can then consider how to respond to these questions and to produce any others they might have missed, a task they describe as their homework for the summer break — August and early September.

They will then return in the autumn to draw up “templates”. These will be electronic forms or tables for spelling out the commitments, together with accompanying tables containing the data used to calculate the commitments. At this stage, the actual commitments will be left blank, but some of the data to be used to calculate the commitments will be produced in advance.

At least some of the data and the templates will be needed when members agree on “modalities” — the blueprint document containing formulas for lowering import barriers and subsidies, along with flexibilities allowing countries to deviate from the formulas, and a range of related disciplines. The final commitments will be calculated from the data by applying the “modalities”, currently in their fifth draft (document TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4 of 6 December 2008). See “at a glance” on the right.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Walker said he plans to schedule meetings of various types intensively from September. He said he would start consultations on still unsettled issues in the negotiations with various countries and groups of countries from 7 September. This would be immediately after he returns from New Delhi, where the Indian hosts have invited him to attend a meeting of a group of ministers in the previous week. From the week of 21 September he said he would also continue meetings on the technical work on data and templates.

Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said in the 23 July meeting:



This meeting

This was an informal agriculture negotiations meeting of the full membership, officially an “Informal Open-Ended Special Session” of the Agriculture Committee.

The latest texts and a number of related issues can be found with explanations here, including what “the text” is and says, and a “jargon buster”.

The current phase of the negotiations is about “modalities”, explained here.



Explanations of the issues are available for the chairperson’s 2008 drafts and reports.

Schedules: In general, a WTO member’s list of commitments on market access (bound tariff rates, access to services markets). Goods schedules can include commitments on agricultural subsidies and domestic support. Services commitments include bindings on national treatment.

Templates: Here, blank forms prepared for the schedules of commitments, and for data in used to calculate the commitments. Some of the data will be in “supporting tables” attached to the schedules of commitments.

Modalities: A way to proceed. In WTO negotiations, modalities set broad outlines — such as formulas or approaches for tariff reductions — for final commitments. In agriculture, the modalities include formulas and approaches for cutting domestic support and export subsidies as well.

“Room E”: meetings of a representative group of about 30—37 delegations as part of a process that is controlled by the full membership. These are explained here (see “where and who?” box on the right).

The present room E delegations are (36 in 2009): Argentina (Cairns Group, G-20), Australia (Cairns Group coordinator), Brazil (G-20 coordinator, also Cairns), Burkina Faso (Cotton-4 coordinator, also African Group, least-developed, Africa-Caribbean-Pacific), Canada (Cairns), China (G-33, G-20, recent new member), Colombia (Cairns, tropical products group), Costa Rica (tropical products coordinator, also Cairns), Cuba (G-33, G-20, small and vulnerable economies, ACP), Dominican Rep (small-vulnerable economies coordinator, also G-33), Ecuador (tropical products, recent new member), Egypt (African Group ag coordinator, also G-20), EU, India (G-33, G-20), Indonesia (G-33 coordinator, also G-20, Cairns), Jamaica (ACP coordinator, also G-33, small-vulnerable), Japan (G-10 coordinator), Kenya (G-33, African, ACP), Rep. Korea (G-33, G-10), Malaysia (Cairns), Mauritius (G-33, ACP, African), Mexico (G-20),  NewZealand (Cairns), Norway (G-10), Pakistan (Cairns, G-20, G-33), Paraguay (Cairns, G-20, tropical products, small-vulnerable), Philippines (G-33, G-20, Cairns), South Africa (Cairns Group, African Group, ACP), Switzerland (G-10), Chinese Taipei (recent new members coordinator, also G—10), Tanzania (least-developed countries coordinator, also African Group, ACP) Thailand (Cairns, G-20), Turkey (G-33), Uruguay (Cairns, G-20), US, Venezuela (G-33, G-20).

The story so far

2000: Agriculture negotiations launched (March). See backgrounder

2001: Doha Development Agenda launched. Agriculture included (November)

2004: “Framework” agreed (August)

2005: Further agreements in Hong Kong Ministerial Conference (December)

2006: Draft modalities (June)

2007: Revised draft modalities (July)

2007-2008: Intensive negotiations with working documents (September-January)

2008: Revised draft modalities (February, May and July)

2008: The July 2008 package full coverage and the chair’s report



This technical work would take the negotiators through the following sequence, leading to “schedules” (lists or tables) of commitments:

1. Members identify data needs and design blank forms (“templates”) for data and for commitments (now and through the autumn)

2. “Modalities” (formulas, flexibilities, disciplines) agreed, perhaps with agreed blank forms or tables, and with some data attached

3. “Scheduling” — forms/tables filled in. Some are draft commitments, based on “modalities” formulas. Some are supporting tables of data

4. Members verify each others’ draft commitments, using the supporting data.

5. Commitments are agreed as part of the Doha Round single undertaking

This work is technical, but some political questions also still have to be sorted out before “modalities” can be agreed.

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