THIS NEWS ITEM IS DESIGNED TO HELP THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WTO. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS’ POSITIONS. THE OFFICIAL RECORD IS IN THE MEETING’S MINUTES
> Explanation in “Understanding the WTO”
The discussion was one of a number of exchanges on
some of the 97 notifications that members have submitted since the committee
last met in March, including one from Poland showing its export subsidy
commitments were also breached in 2002.
One of the committee’s core functions is to receive notifications from WTO members on how they are applying their commitments in agriculture, and to discuss these when issues arise.
The committee also discussed a range of on-going work to improve notifications, including the recent decision to release the questions members ask each other and their answers, and plans to put these in a database.
The questions members ask each other in the review of notifications, and their
replies, come under the committee’s key responsibility of overseeing how
countries are complying with their commitments on subsidies and market access.
Members can also ask about agricultural measures that have not yet been notified
or have not been notified at all.
The questions and answers can be found here when they have been processed and derestricted after a few weeks.
These “regular” Agriculture Committee meetings deal with routine WTO work, and not the current negotiations, which take place in separate “special sessions”. The committee comprises all WTO members.
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and the US asked Costa Rica about five
of its notifications (documents
…/CRI/30 available from
docsonline.wto.org). Among the
figures Costa Rica said its total “Aggregate Measurement of Support” (AMS) for
agriculture was $62.5m in 2008 and $91.7m in 2009, compared to a maximum
committed level of $15.9m.
AMS is the type of domestic support that distorts trade the most, by raising prices in the country and stimulating production. It’s sometimes called “Amber Box” support.
Costa Rica said the high levels were caused by its domestic support policies responding to rising world prices and increased production in the country. It said it attaches importance to complying with its commitments and the government is looking into the situation.
The EU, Uruguay and Pakistan joined the five questioners in describing the breach as serious, particularly since it follows a rising trend. The US observed that prices are now lower, which might ease the problem. Nevertheless, they praised Costa Rica for being transparent and notifying promptly and said they would follow the government’s efforts to tackle the problem.
Australia also queried Poland’s $9.6m export subsidy on powder milk in 2002, overshooting the commitment of $5.6m. Poland is now a member of the EU, which replied on its behalf that the problem was corrected the following year and has never been repeated. Poland now comes under an EU monitoring system, which prevents commitment breaches, the EU said.
One of the purposes of discussing notifications and related issues in WTO committees is to avoid conflict or litigation. Despite the breaches, no one in this meeting mentioned the possibility of bringing a dispute case to the WTO.
Many of the questions asked were seeking more information, particularly on
issues such as the use of temporary tariff increases known as “special
safeguards”, and a wide range of domestic support programmes that are in the
“Green Box”, which at most is minimally distorting and therefore allowed without
limit. Several questions asked the countries to explain why the programmes are
in the “Green Box”.
Some questions are not based on notifications. In this meeting Canada asked Ukraine about a proposed “temporary agricultural fee” and whether this would be within Ukraine’s tariff commitments. Ukraine said the proposal has not been adopted.
New Zealand queried whether Canada’s “cumulative protection-driven” dairy products violate Canada’s commitments — which Canada denied — and the US asked Argentina about a number of measures which the US said are holding up imports and could be subsidizing exports — which Argentina also denied.
Australia asked seven members why their notifications are overdue: Venezuela on
market access, domestic support and export subsidies (last submitted in April
2009); China on domestic support (the last in 2004); Egypt on domestic support
and export subsidies (none since May 1999); India on a range of issues (none
since 2002—03); Rep.Korea (none since 2004); Turkey (none since 2002); the US on
food aid (not since 2006).
Venezuela and the US said they had sent notifications to the WTO Secretariat, which is still processing them. India and Rep.Korea said they will notify soon, India explaining that it has been collecting data, which is nearly ready. China and Egypt said they face a large backlog of data collection, in Egypt’s case worsened by the lengthening period since it last notified. Turkey said the delay is because its policy and infrastructure are being reformed.
Databases and workshops
Several members urged the Secretariat to move ahead with a proposed searchable database of questions and answers from the committee’s meetings. Several also praised the workshop for English-speaking officials from capitals, which has taken place during the week. The workshop is designed to help officials prepare notifications. Similar events for Spanish and French speakers will be held in November and March. See
Chairperson: Ms Valéria Csukasi (Uruguay), re-elected for another term at this meeting
(Could be changed)
• 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.
• Green Box: Domestic support for agriculture that is allowed without limits because it does not distort trade, or at most causes minimal distortion.
• 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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