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.

“INFORMAL MEETING” means there are no minutes.

> 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)

With one final round of talks planned in April before the Easter target for revised draft texts, Ambassador Walker urged negotiators to make “problem-solving” progress. He said he will continue to work with Geneva-based delegates before reconvening another fortnight of talks starting on 4 April.

He was wrapping up the latest round of agriculture talks, which began with a meeting of the full membership on 9 March and included two “Room E” meetings of about 38 representative delegations (see below), smaller consultations that he held with some negotiators on four contentious subjects, and meetings some delegates held among themselves.



“The purpose in all of these consultations was to discuss with delegations whether there were developments in the work that they are doing on a number of issues that could lead to the contribution that we are invited to make as an agriculture negotiating group to the TNC by Easter,” he said. (Audio below.)

This was a reference to the Trade Negotiations Committee’s informal meeting on 30 November 2010, when members accepted Director-General Pascal Lamy’s assessment that “revised texts in all areas of the negotiation will have to be developed so that they appear towards the end of the first quarter of 2011,” now shifted to Easter.

“I have to report to you as of today, that there are none yet,” Ambassador Walker went on.

“But I would also stress that delegations continue to work to develop such contributions, I hope, in areas of clarifications and data, in areas of bracketed and annotated issues in the draft modalities that we have been looking at, and during the course of the discussions, particularly in the Room E format, one or two other very specific proposals that delegations have indicated they are continuing to discuss amongst themselves.”

For the work in the 4–15 April fortnight, the chairperson said he hopes “to be able to bring our contribution together during that period,” he added.

Calling for work to intensify in the coming days so that “problem-solving progress” can be made, the chairperson said this would determine how the agriculture negotiating group intends “to respond to the TNC,” so long as the TNC’s invitation to make a contribution stands.



Discussions in the past 10 days continued to be on clarifying the present, December 2008, draft, data needed for various purposes, outstanding differences in the draft and accompanying papers denoted by square brackets and comments, and those discussed in accompanying documents, and some additional issues.

Ambassador Walker said his Room E meetings covered all three pillars in the talks — domestic support, market access, and export subsidies and other export competition issue — and his consultations with smaller groups were about:

  • tariff simplification — converting complex tariffs to percentages of the price or possibly to simple forms of specific duties such as euros per tonne
  • tariff quota creation — which implies countries would be allowed to label products as “sensitive”, with a smaller than normal tariff cut, even if the products do not currently have tariff quotas
  • the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) — which will allow developing countries to raise import duties temporarily to deal with import surges or price falls
  • cotton


Members’ comments

Some countries took the opportunity to refer to their particular concerns, including the group of small and vulnerable economies, countries that recently joined the WTO, and some developing countries, on flexibilities for their situations, including the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily to shield their farmers from import surges or price falls.


Room E

The chairperson held consultations with 38 delegations, 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), Bangladesh (least-developed countries 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, India (G-33, G-20), Indonesia (G-33 coordinator, also G-20, Cairns), Jamaica (ACP, also G-33, small-vulnerable), Japan (G-10), Kenya (African Group coordinator, also G-33, 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 (African Group, ACP, least-developed)




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 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

About negotiating texts:

• bracketed

• “Job document”

• modality, modalities

• schedules

• templates


• Amber box

• Blue box

• box

• de minimis

• distortion

• export competition

• Green box

• pro-rating

• sensitive products

• special products (SP)

• special safeguard mechanism (SSM)

• tariff quota

• tariff line

• the three pillars

> More jargon: glossary
> More explanations

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