> News: agriculture talks

> Agriculture negotiations
> Modalities phase

> The Doha Round

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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

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

It is based on Director-General Pascal Lamy’s statement to ambassadors at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), which he chairs, on 30 November. This, in turn, was based on political declarations from the recent G-20 summit in Seoul and APEC meeting in Yokohama.

Chairperson Walker, who is New Zealand’s ambassador, asked members to do their homework over the Christmas and New Year break, consult with each other, and report on progress when they meet on 17 January. He said the work on a revised draft “modalities” (see jargon buster) text will have four components, including issues proposed by some members:

  • Outstanding issues, including those he has described as “bracketed or otherwise annotated” in the December 2008 draft (see link on the left) and its associated papers
  • Clarifying points that have emerged as unclear in the December 2008 text, such as those raised in a paper by Argentina, China and India
  • Correcting typographical errors
  • Completing data that will have to be attached to the “modalities”, for example data on values of production to be used to calculate new limits on domestic support, and on domestic consumption for creating new tariff quotas.

The eventual revised text should be based on consensus, and where consensus is not possible, provide clear choices for decision-makers to pick, he said.

He suggested that delegations could prepare for the upcoming work by studying his March 2010 report to the Trade Negotiations Committee.

The chairperson added that the more technical work on “templates” and data will also continue (explained below), as it did in the meeting on Monday 6 December.

Ambassador Walker was partly reporting on consultations during the week. He said his plans were developed in a meeting in “Room E” at the WTO headquarters on 8 December with 38 delegations invited, representing all the main coalitions. This is a configuration used from time to time to allow a freer discussion that can then feed into the “multilateral” process involving all members, in a structure sometimes called “concentric circles”.

The 38 delegations invited were: 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), Chile (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 agriculture coordinator, G-20), EU, Gabon (African Group coordinator, ACP), India (G-33, G-20), Indonesia (G-33 coordinator, also G-20, Cairns), Jamaica (ACP, also G-33, small-vulnerable), Japan (G-10), Kenya (G-33, African, ACP, Commodities Group), Rep. Korea (G-33, G-10), Malaysia (Cairns), Mauritius (ACP coordinator, G-33, African), Mexico (G-20), New Zealand (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 coordinator), Chinese Taipei (recent new members coordinator, also G–10), Thailand (Cairns, G-20), Turkey (G-33), Uruguay (Cairns, G-20), US, Venezuela (G-33, G-20), Zambia (least-developed countries coordinator, also African Group, ACP)

Ambassador Walker also reported on consultations on cotton.



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

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.


Outstanding issues

Chairperson David Walker describes the issues he is currently dealing with as topics that are “bracketed and otherwise annotated” in the 2008 documents. He listed these issues and his assessments in his 22 March 2010 report to the Trade Negotiations Committee.


From templates and data, to commitments

Templates: Here, these are blank forms prepared for the “schedules” (lists or tables) 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.

Part of the technical work is on organizing the data. 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 takes negotiators through the following sequence:

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

This 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 also includes 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.)

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.

Jargon buster

About negotiating texts:

• bracketed: in official drafts, square brackets indicate text that has not been agreed and is still under discussion

• templates: blank forms or tables for presenting commitments or data

• modalities: the way to proceed. In WTO negotiations, modalities set broad outlines — such as formulas or approaches for tariff and subsidy reductions — for final commitments

• 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

• “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

• boxes: categories of domestic support

• Amber Box: domestic support considered to distort production and trade, eg, by supporting prices or being directly related to production quantities, and therefore subject to reduction commitments. Officially, “aggregate measurement of support” (AMS)

• de minimis: Amber Box supports in small, minimal or negligible permitted amounts (currently limited to 5% of the value of production in developed countries, 10% in developing). To simplify this guide to the “modalities”, de minimis is treated separately from the Amber box

• 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 supports considered not to support trade or to cause minimal distortion and therefore permitted with no limits

• distortion: when prices are higher or lower than normal, and when quantities produced, bought, and sold are also higher or lower than normal — ie, than the levels that would usually exist in a competitive market

• sensitive products (available for all countries): would have smaller tariff cuts than from the formula, but with quotas allowing imports at lower tariffs (“tariff quotas”) to provide some access to the market

• tariff quota: when quantities inside a quota are charged lower import duty rates, than those outside (which can be high). (The reductions from the formulas apply to out-of-quota tariffs)

• tariff line: a product as defined in lists of tariff rates. Products can be sub-divided, the level of detail reflected in the number of digits in the Harmonized System (HS) code use to identify the product

• special products (SP): products for which developing countries are to be given extra flexibility in market access for food and livelihood security and rural development

• 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)

• pro-rating: a proposal, to adapt the calculation for triggering the SSM safeguard so that it takes into account the effect of an SSM in an earlier period. Imports in an earlier period when a safeguard was being used might be lower than the general trend. Therefore the earlier safeguard might exaggerate an import surge in a subsequent year, triggering the use of the safeguard again

• export competition: term used in these negotiations to cover export subsidies and the “parallel” issues, which could provide loopholes for governments’ export subsidies — export finance (credit, guarantees and insurance), exporting state trading enterprises, and international food aid

> More jargon: glossary
> More explanations


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