> 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)

His announcement came at the end of a week of meetings and consultations, in which much of the focus was on the process of the present phase of the negotiations. During the week Ambassador Walker also held consultations on some of the substance of the talks, including the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries (see “jargon buster” on the right).

A key part of recent work has been the technical exercise of preparing possible draft “templates” or blank forms for governments eventually to list (or put in “schedules”) their commitments — explained below.

On Wednesday 19 May, the EU presented a chart — a “road-map” — describing what could be needed to build up these templates in market access, the most complex area of the negotiations.

The key feature of the EU’s roadmap is a complex chart tracing final commitments back to various levels of supporting data and calculations.

The EU said its chart is a draft because it is based on the current draft “modalities”. At the top of the EU’s chart are column headings for the tables, so that the spaces below can be filled with information identifying each product, the present tariff commitment, the new commitment after the proposed formula’s cut has been applied, and other details.

Below that, the chart proposes supporting tables dealing with all the market access provisions that might apply to the product, for example, the tariff formula, whether the product is “sensitive” (taking a smaller cut), whether a maximum or “cap” is applied, and various other features, including those for developing countries.

Additional supporting tables might be needed, and in some cases the actual calculations might have to be provided. This would include calculating the average cuts across all products because developed countries will have to meet a minimum average cut and developing countries will be able to scale down their cuts if the average exceeds a maximum.

Members said they found road-map useful, not only because it describes comprehensively the tables and templates that have to be created, but also because when members discuss a particular question (a draft table, supporting data or calculation) they can locate it on the chart.

However, some members argued that a few templates will have to wait until outstanding issues in the “modalities” have been settled.

Negotiators will now consult among themselves (described as “intersessional” discussions”), before the next session of the full membership in the week of 5 July 2010.



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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