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
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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: Revised draft modalities (February, May, July and December)
The chairperson, who is New Zealand’s ambassador, was reporting to the entire membership (audio and full text below) on the consultations he and Director-General Roberto Azevêdo have held with a number of delegations since September, and particularly his own consultations since ambassadors last met as the Trade Negotiations Committee on 30 September.
“The priority now is to capture in a more concrete way the convergence that I have described earlier, but also not shy away from highlighting the key areas of divergence that we also have to bridge,” he concluded at the end of the meeting.
“Given the limited time left, I urge all of you to approach the discussions in coming days, in the next couple of weeks constructively and to recognise that we now have extremely limited time if we are to deliver agreed agriculture elements for Bali.”
The focus of the discussions is what might be agreed for the 3–6 December 2013 WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali and what would be undertaken afterwards. Three issues have been identified as possible candidates out of a considerably broader package on agriculture in the Doha Round talks.
The chairperson observed that members still want a deal on tariff-rate quota (TRQ) administration — adapting the way quotas are shared out to reduce the chances that the allocation method is itself a trade barrier — even though the focus more recently has been on the two other issues: stock holding for food security in developing countries, and export subsidies in various forms.
The only other speaker in the meeting was the Philippines, representing the G–33, which broadly confirmed the chairperson’s assessment and stressed the importance of the group’s proposal. The G–33 group of developing countries is seeking extra flexibility for these countries in implementing the results of the agriculture negotiations.
G–33 proposal. In his statement to the agriculture talks, Ambassador Adank outlined eight “elements” under discussion on the G–33 group of developing countries’ proposal on stockholding-for-food-security.
At this stage, members do not envisage changing the rules of the WTO Agriculture Agreement. Instead, they are focusing on a shorter term way of allowing developing countries some leeway to exceed their agreed domestic support limits when they buy, stock and supply cereals and other food in order to boost food security among the poor.
The Bali deal could take the form of a temporary “waiver” (formal legal exemption) allowing countries to exceed their limits, a non-binding political statement by the conference’s chairperson, or some other option in between (details below). Flexibility along these lines has sometimes been called a “peace clause” or “due restraint”, because members would avoid bringing legal disputes against developing countries in these circumstances.
Ambassador Adank said there is “no convergence” on which of the options members could accept. But, he went on, that would also depend on the other conditions, such as how long the provision would last, what products — or staple foods — it could cover, what safeguards would be available to prevent the release of the stocks from affecting international markets, and how countries using the provisions would provide enough information to make their actions transparent — one of the “elements” that has seen “the most convergent and detailed focused discussion so far,” according to the chairperson.
“Many members have recognised that by discussing in some details, transparency requirements, conditionality and safeguards, members had already taken steps towards elaborating quite specific requirements on which the flexibility will be dependent,” he said.
“This, it is fair to say, seems to point to a more ‘legalistic’ approach closer to a waiver or another form of ministerial decision than the other two options I have mentioned.”
On stockholding, the G–33 proposes amending the Agriculture Agreement to loosen disciplines on domestic support, including using price support for public stockholding and food aid purposes, in order to enhance food security by supporting poor farmers and consumers. It draws on the text in Annex B of the December 2008 draft “modalities”, the main agriculture draft currently on the table. (See more details here and here.)
On export subsidies and related issues bundled under the heading “export competition,” Ambassador Adank also reported some convergence although “a number of issues remain far from agreed”.
His “preliminary” list of topics emerging from consultations with members includes a possible ministerial message from Bali that members consider all forms of export subsidy to seriously distorts trade and that they agree it should be eliminated completely.
Ministers could also recognize that export subsidies have been used less in recent years, although some members have reservations on this for a number of reasons. They could pledge to work actively after Bali towards eliminating the subsidies, and to improve information sharing on export subsidies.
The discussion focuses on a proposal circulated in May by the G–20 group of developing countries active in agriculture. It envisaged first steps towards eliminating export subsidies and disciplining export credit to reduce the chance that the credit is subsidized.
The chairperson’s list of possible topics does not include the group’s original proposals for immediate reductions in export subsidy limits. A number of members have said they would not agree to this without agreement on other parts of the broader agriculture negotiations.
The original proposal arises partly from 2013 deadline for eliminating all forms of export subsidies originally agreed at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005, which is symbolic for many members.
Tariff quota administration. The chairperson said fewer issues remain to be resolved on the G–20’s proposal on how tariff quotas — sometimes called tariff rate quotas (TRQs), where import duties are lower on quantities imported within the quotas than on quantities outside — are shared out.
The proposal has two components: improving the information shared is less controversial, but how the disciplines might be tightened and particularly what special treatment should be given to developing countries remain more problematic.
Some countries argue that the way the quotas are managed (including the methods for allocating the quotas to importers or exporters, and various other administrative practices), can be too cumbersome and hamper exporters’ ability to access markets.
“In general, my sense remains that members would like to see an outcome delivered in this area for Bali,” he said.
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Further small group consultations continue with a meeting of the full membership possible towards the end of the month.
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This was an informal agriculture negotiations meeting of the full membership, officially an “Informal Open-Ended Special Session” of the Agriculture Committee.
Modalities: The way or method of doing something — in this case, how to cut tariffs, enlarge quotas and reduce subsidies and support, along with flexibilities to deal with various sensitivities. The core methods are formulas for cutting tariffs and supports, with a number ways of achieving the flexibilities or tightening disciplines. Once the modalities have been agreed, countries can apply the formulas to tariffs on thousands of products and to various support programmes.
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Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said in the meeting:
The chair’s statements:
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Report by the Chair, Ambassador John Adank Informal meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Special Session 11 October 2013
As mentioned in the invitation fax, the purpose of today’s meeting is to report back on the state of play on Bali‑related elements that have been the subject of informal consultations in recent weeks.
As usual, I will go through my report proposal by proposal, starting with the G‑33 proposal on public stockholding for food security (JOB/AG/22), followed by the G‑20 proposal on export competition (JOB/AG/24), and then finally the G‑20 proposal on TRQ administration (JOB/AG/20), before turning to any other issues that members may wish to raise.
Since the last TNC [Trade Negotiations Committee meeting] on 30 September where the DG [Director-General] provided everyone with his report on the Room E process, I have been holding consultations in various formats, building on the results from the room E process. As you know, one of the important developments there was the agreement by members to explore a due restraint provision as a possible interim solution to the G‑33 proposal. Discussions were also useful to move things forward on the identification of options for export competition in the Bali package. The process also confirmed that many members continue to see the TRQ administration proposal as one that could realistically be part of a balanced outcome at Bali even though there remain some issues to resolve in this area.
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The G–33 proposal
Building on this, my consultations regarding the G‑33 proposal have been based on the eight elements identified as the components of an interim solution. Just to remind you, these elements are:
- the nature of such a solution (whether it is to be political or legally binding);
- its character (whether is it to be automatic, non‑automatic or hybrid);
- its coverage;
- transparency and reporting;
- the safeguards that might be appropriate to minimize distorting effects;
- other terms and conditions;
- duration and review; and
- post‑Bali work
Element 1 (nature)
Based on advice from the Secretariat’s Legal Division, I identified during consultations four options available for introducing a due restraint provision by Bali. These are: a Waiver, a Ministerial Decision (other than waiver), a Ministerial Declaration, and a Chairperson’s statement.
While there is no convergence for the time being on the precise legal or political form an interim solution should have, many members have recognised that by discussing in some details transparency requirements, conditionality and safeguards, members had already taken steps towards elaborating quite specific requirements on which the flexibility will be dependent. This, it is fair to say, seems to point to a more “legalistic” approach closer to a waiver or another form of Ministerial decision that the other two options I have mentioned. The final legal weight of any decision will, however, depend in the minds of many on the final conditions and safeguards and the terms in which any Decision is drafted.
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Element 2 (character)
There seems to be convergence on the point that the flexibility would be subject to conditions, but once the agreed conditions (transparency, reporting and any other conditions) are fulfilled its implementation becomes automatic.
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Element 3 (coverage)
It has also been agreed informally by many that:
- the flexibility should be available for public stockholding programmes for food security purposes in developing countries relating to staple crops in cases where there is a clear risk of breaching AMS [aggregate measurement of support, sometimes called “Amber Box”] commitments as a result of these programmes;
- the flexibility is expected to cover the breach of the AMS commitments under Art. 6 and 7 of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) arising from the public stockholding programmes; and
- while the purpose of the flexibility is not to provide greater flexibility for domestic food aid per se, given that the existing provisions on Domestic Food Aid are not an issue, Footnote 5‑6 of Annex 2 can be seen as providing relevant context for what we have been discussing.
On the number of staple crops that might be potentially covered, members have been divided between those who would like some numerical limitations, and others who do not want any such limitations. While the suggestion to limit the coverage to “traditional” staple crops has been well received by many; the question of a numerical limitation therefore remains open.
Another issue raised in the discussions was the issue of “backfilling” which is the possibility of using the part of AMS that would be shielded against legal actions to increase the AMS under another programme not related to food security, and the various circumvention issues that might arise. It was considered by a number of members that the real constraint to this would be the duration of the interim solution, and others suggested that it may be only a theoretical rather than a practical possibility, but it may be an issue members may want to come back on.
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Element 4 (Transparency / Reporting)
It is fair to say that this has been the element on which we have seen the most convergent and detailed focused discussion so far. It is generally accepted that the use of any proposed flexibility would be subject to:
- up‑to‑date notifications; and
- the provision of some additional information as per a template the draft of which has been provided and discussed but which will need to be further refined. We have already had a very extensive discussion in this area and are, I believe, close to an agreement on these various elements.
The periodicity for the regular notifications would be yearly, while some different views still remain regarding the additional information to be provided and how often it should be provided, whether ad hoc, annual, or other basis.
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Element 5 (Safeguards)
Discussions on safeguards have at times been rather conceptual and concentrated around issues such as: what constitutes a negative spill‑over effect (e.g. commercial injury, undermining the food security of other members); what conditions would be required to minimize the distorting effects (e.g. food security objective, conditions/restrictions for the release of stocks to export/domestic markets), and what might constitute a safeguard (e.g. programme design, specific measures, general rules).
Our initial discussions seemed to proceed on the basis of an acceptance that while the flexibility would address the situation of possible breach of Articles 6 and 7 of the AoA [Agreement on Agriculture] that the SCM [Subsidies and Countervailing Measures] Agreement would apply and hence provide some safeguards against adverse effects to the interests of another member. This issue will however require some further discussion.
It has also been suggested that a member using the flexibility could be asked to provide a description of measures in place aimed at ensuring food security objectives of the programme are met and at seeking to minimise any production or trade distortive effects in order to provide further comfort to other members in relation to the granting of the flexibility.
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Element 6 (Other terms and conditions)
It has not been subject to any specific discussion probably because all issues that have emerged were better taken care of under the other seven elements.
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Element 7 (duration / review)
Regarding duration, members can be broadly divided into two groups:
- those who would like to have a clearly time‑bound interim solution (for example two years or till the next Ministerial, or some other specific date); and
- those who would like to have the interim solution in place until a permanent solution has been agreed on. Between these two options there is, of course, also the possibility of a time bound duration coupled with a work programme aimed at elaborating a more durable solution but without any direct link between the duration of the interim solution and an agreement on a permanent solution.
It has also been pointed out that the duration will also be related to the nature of the flexibility that it provides and to the post‑Bali work; and some have noted that a shorter duration acts as a safeguard against some of the issues of concern to members.
Regarding the issue of a review, the discussion among members in this area ranged across a number of different elements. First, it seems to be generally accepted that the Committee on Agriculture would be the focus for receiving notifications from members who were seeking flexibility and that this might also provide an opportunity for members to raise questions or queries with members. Some members have said however, that while this oversight function was understood, that it should not be confused with the CoA [Committee on Agriculture] having the power to decide whether the flexibility should be dropped or continued for an individual member. It was also noted that the experience with notifications and information submitted under the mechanism could be useful material for the work that might be carried out on seeking a more permanent solution to some of the issues raised by the G‑33 proposal. This is an area I will now comment on.
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Element 8 (Post‑Bali work)
This is one of the elements were there is no clear convergence at this stage, probably because the debates have ranged very broadly. There seems on the one hand to be an acceptance, however, that work of some sort will need to continue post‑Bali to explore progress on more enduring solutions. But exactly how this work would be framed is yet to be elaborated in the discussions. Ideas floated range from suggestions to start looking at the post‑Bali work based on the elements identified by the G‑33 as “problematic” within Annex 3 and Footnotes 5 and 5‑6 [of the Agriculture Agreement], to a number of members warning against prejudging the nature of the discussions and the outcome of the future work and advocating in favour of a more open approach to the post‑Bali work, noting also here the context of the wider post‑Bali work programme in agriculture and other areas.
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On export competition, my sense is that the recent discussions have helped us to move forward to identify what could be the various elements of a possible Bali outcome in this area.
While we can see convergence emerging around some of these elements, it is fair to say that a number of issues still remain far from agreed.
So let me describe what has been discussed until now. I will do so under five headings that I have utilized to structure the discussions.
And let me stress that in structuring the discussions in this way, it is still a very preliminary list of potential elements, subject to additions or deletions, following on from feedback from members and further consultations. It is importantly without prejudice to the position of any member regarding the final outcome, and simply designed to facilitate discussions amongst members to take forward possible convergence in this highly important area.
My other comment would be that while these elements focus on export competition, a number of members have underlined that they also see these elements in the wider context of the agriculture negotiation, including domestic support and market access, and more generally in the context of the Doha round as a whole. This is a point that we will need to keep in mind in the coming weeks as we frame any agreed elements of agriculture for Bali.
1. Reaffirmation of the DDA final objective to be achieved on export competition
The discussions have highlighted the possibility to register the following points under this heading:
First, a clear message recalling that export subsidies in all forms are a highly trade distorting form of support. And we know the particular context of agriculture in that regard, given that unlike industrial products, export subsidies within scheduled limits are permitted.
Second, an acknowledgment that export competition remains a key element, and for some members their clear priority, of the Doha round in the context of the continuation of the on‑going reform process enshrined in article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture.
Third, a reaffirmation of the final objective on export competition of the Doha Round as specified in the Hong Kong Ministerial declaration, which referred to “the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies and disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect”.
Finally, there were different views expressed as to whether the revised draft modalities for agriculture (doc. TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4) should be referenced as remaining the basis for a final agreement in the export competition pillar — so this is an area that we will need to explore further to see what options present themselves. I would hope that we would at least be able to convey in some way the sense that the important progress achieved in the negotiations in the past in this key area of Doha can be acknowledged.
2. Recognition of the positive trend regarding the decreased use of export subsidies, and possibly similar positive trends in the other areas of the export competition pillar, in recent years
In this regard, members drew attention to the decreased use of export subsidies subject to reduction commitments and acknowledged the fact that the reforms undertaken by some members have contributed to this positive trend.
However, a number of members also pointed out that this should not be seen as a replacement in any way for the attainment of the objective which still eludes us and which is the the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies and disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect. They have also noted that this observation on the positive trend is therefore somewhat mitigated by the regretful fact that the 2013 deadline foreseen in the Hong Kong Ministerial declaration could not be met.
Finally, several members suggested making reference to the trends and reforms in the other areas of the export competition pillar, i.e. export finance, international food aid and agricultural exporting state trading enterprises. One member noted that not all the members had undertaken reforms, and that the importance of those reforms could differ significantly from one member to the other
Here I think we’ll have to work further to see which trends and reforms could be identified, and how we can describe the overall context.
3. Engagement to pursue the reform process and maintain this positive trend after MC9 pending the achievement of the final objective
It is fair to say that this part of the discussion is considered by a large number of participants as the central part of the overall outcome on export competition for Bali.
It is my sense that nobody would disagree with the importance of maintaining the reform process in the field of export competition given the positive climate that such actions can contribute for WTO negotiations overall and the significant negative consequences that any reversal of the trend would have on this climate.
However the question of how, and for some members whether, such a general orientation could possibly translate into some type of more specific concrete engagement by members, remains the subject of different views.
The G‑20 proposal for a down payment clearly remains on the table. However a number of members have continued to register that they do not see a legal change to commitments as possible in the context of Bali.
In terms of a specific proposal for a standstill option — whether political or legal — some members consider that it would reward those members who have made less effort in the past to the detriment of those who have undergone significant reforms. Other notions were floated in these discussions, like, for example, encouragement to continue the past positive trend, and the importance of on‑going exercise of restraint in the use of all forms of export subsidies.
Some members also registered the point that any kind of engagement or commitment in this area should address in a parallel manner all the areas of the export competition pillar, and not only export subsidies.
4. Monitoring and transparency
Here again, there seems to be a willingness to consider incorporating into the Bali outcome some elements related to the enhancement of transparency and the monitoring of the policy developments by members in the area of export competition. At the same time some members have cautioned that improvements on transparency and monitoring should not constitute a substitute for more substantive commitments.
Among the ideas raised here, there have been suggestions for:
- More timely notifications by members as per current notification requirements.
- The notion of a dedicated discussion on an annual basis, or more regularly, as agreed, by the Committee on Agriculture of developments under the export competition pillar.
Several members also proposed to establish additional notification requirements in relation to all the areas of the export competition pillar. One member suggested collecting within a specific amount of time information related to export competition to get a better sense of the current state of play in this field. Was also proposed the notion of some kind of review within two years, if new notification requirements were introduced, to evaluate what had been highlighted by these new requirements.
One of the challenges in relation to this latter proposal would be to identify more precisely what could be the information subject to new notification requirements. This is an area that will require some more technical work among members and I understand there are technical discussions going on informally among members in this area that I will be monitoring.
5. Post Bali work programme
This area will need to be developed building upon the other sections which I described previously, taking into account the wider context of the WTO agriculture negotiation and more generally the context of the Doha round as a whole. I think we all realize as we go through the different discussions on the different topics for Bali that this whole issue of post Bali work programme comes up under each subject area, and we need to bear that in mind as we consider any specific agriculture related element.
In these discussions, a number of members have registered the importance of export competition remaining a priority issue for the post Bali work programme.
The general sentiment has been that while members have different views about the conditions that would be required to deliver on the DDA [Doha Development Agenda, like the “Doha Round”, an unofficial name for the current WTO negotiations] final objective on export competition, members should continue to work actively to secure the conditions for further concrete progress in this area as early as feasible.
I don’t think the views I am reporting back today come as any surprise to members that have participated in my consultations or those who have independently taken the opportunity to exchange views with other members on these issues.
In short, some good progress has been made in identifying points of potential convergence but some important divergences remain and a lot of work remains to be done.
In some of these areas, the discussions are still quite preliminary and we will need as a priority to take those discussions forward in the immediate period ahead as we progress of course on the other issues (G‑33 proposal and TRQ administration).
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Finally, turning to the TRQ administration proposal, this proposal was tabled earliest last year and was generally welcomed as a positive element in the discussions.
It is fair to say that on TRQ administration there are fewer issues remaining to be resolved than in the discussions on the G‑33 proposal and export competition. I have continued to consult with members in various configurations regarding the remaining area of divergence.
You’ll recall that the proposal contains two distinct elements: transparency provisions associated with TRQ administration and an underfill mechanism. In general, my sense remains that members would like to see an outcome delivered in this area for Bali. In my consultations I’ve noted that all members seem reasonably comfortable with the transparency provisions of this proposal.
At the same time, the consultations have confirmed that the S&D [special and differential] treatment foreseen in the TRQ underfill mechanism continues to be problematic for some members. Although we’ve known for some time that this issue would need to be addressed, until recently, we’ve seen limited engagement on the topic.
That being said, some members have come forward with ideas or alternative approaches to S&D treatment and shared those views with other members.
Other members continue to argue that the text in the proposal for the underfill mechanism should remain unchanged and that without the specific S&D provision envisaged in the text as submitted the proposal would not be acceptable. They consider that this proposal reflects a delicate balance and stress that changing the proposal could have unintended consequences on the Bali package overall.
This issue still represents an important aspect of our work for Bali. I have urged members and I will continue to urge them to continue the candid conversations on the differences that persist in this area to identify what may be viable avenues to explore, and I will continue my efforts to facilitate convergence.
[The floor is open for members’ comments]
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The priority now is to capture in a more concrete way the convergence that I have described earlier, but also not shy away from highlighting the key areas of divergence that we also have to bridge.
What remains of key priority now is to capture in a more concrete way the convergence that I have described earlier, but also not shy away from highlighting the key areas of divergence that we also have to bridge.
Next week, I will continue to hold consultations in different formats and remain available to members for consultations.
My aim is to continue to extend the areas of convergence and progressively build upon them elements of drafting for further consideration.
Given the limited time left, I urge all of you to approach the discussions in coming days, in the next couple of weeks constructively and to recognise that we now have extremely limited time if we are to deliver agreed agriculture elements for Bali.
Meetings like the ones that we have been having are clearly important as a device to take convergence forward, but they fail in this purpose if they simply become a venue for restating old and well‑known positions. So there is no substitute for direct discussions between and among delegations where you know — and I think you all do know — there are gaps to be bridged. I will of course do what I can to facilitate this process through the meetings I convene but in addition to those meetings, I encourage members to engage in direct contacts with those who may not share their views to get a better understanding of what could be creative options and solutions to bridge some of these gaps.
I will advise in due course when we will meet again in this format, but at this stage I think we will need to meet again in this open‑ended format before the end of October.
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