THIS NEWS STORY 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.
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They also heard that a group of international agencies, including the WTO, have started work on an information system to improve shared understanding of developments in international food markets, and to better equip governments and others involved to deal with food crises when they occur.
These were among topics discussed by the committee, whose key responsibility is monitoring how the Agriculture Agreement is being implemented — including notifications from WTO members on how they are applying their commitments on market access, domestic support, export subsidies and other topics in agriculture — and to discuss these when issues arise. 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
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.
Domestic support and other policies
The longest discussions in this meeting were about information that some members submitted recently on their domestic support. Many of the questions sought clarifications of how the programmes worked.
India’s notification (G/AG/N/IND/7) took up the most time. At the end, delegates said they had found the session useful even though they would have to study the details, and India said it was encouraged by the discussion.
The notification covered 1998 to 2004 and was welcomed since questions had been asked repeatedly over several previous meetings about when India would deal with the backlog. The questions alone filled nine pages and India’s reply lasted around an hour (still shorter than the record set by the EU in June 1999, G/AG/R/19 pages 23–29). Among the common themes in questions from Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan and the US were:
- the implications of currency and exchange rates on the level of support — India used US dollars when it notified its actual support, but the historical background data (in supporting tables “AGST”) that its commitments use as a reference are in rupees
- the criteria for determining that the recipients are “low income or resource poor” farmers, a condition in WTO rules that allows these supports to be given without any monetary limit.
Costa Rica continues to exceed its committed ceilings for trade-distorting domestic support (AMS) caused by its rice programme (see last meeting and earlier news stories). Replying to the latest set of questions, Costa Rica repeated that a policy revision is being discussed but it could not say when this would take effect.
Expressing concern in this meeting were Australia, Canada, the US, the Philippines, Pakistan, Peru and the EU. They urged Costa Rica to introduce the reforms quickly.
Other domestic notifications questioned in some depth included those on domestic support from Japan (G/AG/N/JPN/167 and Corr.1, questions from Australia, Canada and the US) and the US (G/AG/N/USA/77/Rev.1 and G/AG/N/USA/80, questions from Australia, Brazil, the EU and Japan). The questions were mainly for clarification or explanation. Brazil said that a programme that some members questioned is domestic support, not subsidizing exports. The US praised Tonga for a well-presented domestic support notification (G/AG/N/TON/2).
China’s final transitional review
This was the final review of China’s agricultural trade policy, part of the “Transitional Review Mechanism” covering a range of subjects, set out in China’s 2001 membership agreement. This required annual reviews for the first eight years and one more after 10 years (see earlier news stories, chairs‘ reports to the Goods Council,the questions and the minutes recording the statements made in the meetings).
The US, EU and Japan praised China for the progress it has made in implementing its commitments but noted that some concerns still remain, which they can raise in future meetings under more routine headings. The US said China has opened its markets more and is more transparent in providing public information on its rules and regulations, but some areas still lack transparency and China should reconsider non-tariff barriers such as discriminating when applying value-added tax.
The EU also asked for more transparency. Japan urged China not to reintroduce export taxes and restrictions. Pakistan said China’s use of investment under the Green Box (domestic support that does not distort trade) has helped China meet its millennium development goals and is a good example to other countries.
China said it has learnt a lot from the experience and understands its obligations better, both for applying agricultural trade policies and for notifying the WTO. It will continue to improve market access and increase its agricultural trade, China said.
Significant exporters and improving discussions
Chairperson Jonas Skei reported on his continuing consultations on “significant exporters” (see last meeting), and his new consultations on possible ways of arranging discussions, which he described as aimed at “reinvigorating” the committee’s work “which is largely seen as stagnating”.
Sorting out the revision of “significant exporters” will improve the committee’s ability to monitor export subsidies and the potential for exports to be subsidized and commitments to be evaded. Significant exporters were defined in 1995 as countries whose share of total world exports in particular products exceeds 5%, and are required to notify their export amounts in those products, even if they have not subsidized the exports, and even if they have no reduction commitments — countries without commitments cannot normally subsidize exports.
Since then trading patterns have changed and the discussion has been about how to modify the list of significant exporters and possibly the list of products to reflect the situation better. Mr Skei called for more concrete proposals at the next consultations, and some members said the issue should be settled quickly.
The proposal to reinvigorate the committee’s work on specific topics is also largely intended to strengthen its ability to monitor how the Agriculture Agreement is being implemented. The initial thoughts range from improving notification and review, to examining the wider context of agricultural trade conditions perhaps with input from other organizations.
Some of the discussion is about some members’ concerns that this could lead the committee into areas that are not its official responsibility. Mr Skei said that any discussions would have to be within the committee's proper mandate, and that “there would be no focus on individual members’ policies or practices without their prior consent.
Food security and Market Information
The Secretariat reported that the WTO is working with other international organizations to set up an Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The system would be used to detect abnormal market conditions that would affect food security and to devise well-informed, coordinated strategies to deal with them.
The system is the result of a recommendation by a group of organizations including the WTO in their report on “Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses” submitted in June 2011 to theG-20 (the political G-20 of major economies, not the G-20 in the WTO agriculture negotiations).
The WTO will contribute expertise to the information system, principally by sharing trade policy information that members have notified to the WTO, but no finance, the Secretariat said.
(Could be changed)
Chairperson: Mr Jonas Skei, Norway
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