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More on the modalities phase

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“Those consultations, I think,” he said, “provided some useful opportunities for discussion, and in each case there’s on-going work to be done of one form or another.”

His meetings with smaller groups of members during the fortnight covered four topics in particular:

  • The special safeguard mechanism (SSM), a tool that will allow developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily to deal with import surges or price falls (explained here)

  • Tariff simplification — ending the use of complex tariffs so that most or all end up as straight percentages of the price, with some possibly left as “specific” duties (dollars, euros etc, per tonne, litre, etc)

  • Tariff quota creation — shorthand for whether sensitive products, which will have smaller tariff cuts than normal, can only be products that already have “tariff quotas” (where imports inside the quotas have low duties). If other products can be sensitive, then new tariff quotas would have to be created since the lower duties on quantities inside the quotas are “payment” for having a smaller tariff cut outside the quotas.

  • Tropical products and products enjoying preferences — members are looking at a draft compromise for products that are both “tropical” (with faster and deeper tariff cuts) and developing countries’ exports that enjoy zero or lower import duty in richer markets (and whose regular tariffs will be cut more slowly than normal).

Meanwhile, members continued to make gradual progress in the separate technical work on “templates” and data (explained below). The task is neutral from the point of view of “ambition”, ie, it does not affect how deep the cuts in tariffs and subsidies will be. Sorting this out will allow reduction formulas and other details to be translated into specific commitments quickly and smoothly after “modalities” have been agreed.

During the fortnight they had sessions on various types of data, including domestic support and the value of production (which is used to calculate some support limits), and updating the code numbers used to identify products in detail (from the 1996 codes to the 2002 version of the World Customs Organization’s Harmonized System).



Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said:

The chair’s statements:


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.

Templates and data. Part of the technical work is on organizing the data necessary to calculate commitments, which will be listed in “schedules” of commitments. Electronic forms or tables will be used to present base data — data to be used as the starting point for calculating commitments — in a way that is transparent and verifiable. Eventually they will be used to design “templates” for how the commitments will be presented.

Among the data needed are domestic consumption, for calculating the tariff quotas on sensitive products, and values of production for calculating domestic support commitments.

The technical work follows the draft “modalities” text of December 2008 and is in two steps:

Step 1: considering what “base data” are needed under the present draft “modalities” — what is already available, what will need to be “constructed”, and whether the draft “modalities” says how this should be done. This step would also include the question of whether supporting tables — tables displaying the data and how they are derived — are needed and what their format would be.

Step 2: developed from step 1, designing “templates” or blank forms to be used for the commitments resulting from the Doha Round negotiations, and for any supporting data required. Parts of the data could be presented before, during or after “modalities” have been agreed.

(Chairperson Walker has also referred to an eventual step 3: filling in the numbers.)

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 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.

“Job document”: unofficial document given a number beginning with “JOB”. Up to 2009, the number identifies the year, for example JOB(09)/99. From 2010 it identifies the subject, eg, JOB/AG/1. Because “job” documents are unofficial, they are usually restricted.

The three pillars: the main areas covered by the agriculture negotiations — export competition (export subsidies and related issues), domestic support and market access.


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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