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> More on the modalities phase
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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
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
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
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 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
including what “the text” is and says, and a “jargon buster”.
The current phase of the
negotiations is about “modalities”, explained
Explanations of the issues are available for the
chairperson’s 2008 drafts
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
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
The three pillars: the main areas covered by the agriculture negotiations —
export competition (export subsidies and related issues), domestic support
and market access.
AT A GLANCE
work would take the negotiators through the following
sequence, leading to “schedules” (lists or tables) of
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
This work is technical, but some political questions also
still have to be sorted out before “modalities” can be
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