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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Speaking in the first informal agriculture negotiations meeting of the year, the chairperson, who is New Zealand’s ambassador, said he has not decided yet how the next round of discussions should be organized. However, he made three points:
- the information that is being compiled and circulated on the topics currently under discussion and other issues (see below) will hopefully be a catalyst for this year’s discussions
- those discussions should distinguish between technical issues and questions requiring political decisions
- members intending to submit new proposals should do so quickly, but after they have discussed them with other members in order to test whether agreement will be possible by the 3–6 December 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference.
Since the December 2011 conference in Geneva, the objective has been to explore whether any parts of a considerably broader Doha Round draft outline deal in agriculture could be settled earlier than the rest of the draft and in time for the Bali conference in Indonesia.
Ambassador Adank summarized what had happened in 2012, which started slowly but saw new proposals and more meetings in the second half of the year, the last one on 16 November. (See his December oral report.)
“I would suggest that starting in mid-February we need more focused discussions on where we are on the relevant issues and what the outlook for advancing particular issues,” he said.
He concluded: “just to recall my earlier comment to encourage members contemplating new proposals to come forward with them as soon as possible.
“I would encourage those of you who are considering putting new ideas forward to do the necessary homework to determine whether your proposals would have a reasonable amount of support from other members to secure agreement within the timeframe we have available for the preparations for [the Bali Ministerial Conference] if the objective is to secure decisions by that time.” (Audio below.)
Proposals and data
Two proposals are currently on the table. Both envisage an early agreement on the relevant paragraphs of the December 2008 draft outline deal known as the draft “modalities”:
- TRQ Administration: the Group of 20 developing countries (G-20, coordinated by Brazil), an alliance in the WTO agriculture talks is seeking early agreement on tighter disciplines for administering tariff quotas (or tariff-rate quotas, “TRQs”). This is where duties for quantities inside the quotas are lower than quantities outside. 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.
- Food security: the G-33 group of developing countries (a group seeking extra special treatment to protect their poor farmers, with Indonesia as the coordinator), proposes adopting provisions that would loosen disciplines on domestic support, including public stockholding in order to enhance food security by supporting poor farmers.
Some members have asked for more and more up-to-date data to help them negotiate these issues. Shortly before the New Year break, the Secretariat circulated the latest data from members’ notifications on tariff-quota administration, and on how much of the quotas were used by imports (“quota fill rates”; see document TN/AG/S/26).
Also requested are data on public stockholding for food security, domestic food aid programmes, and export credits, export guarantees and insurance programmes. The Secretariat has sent out questionnaires for additional information that is unavailable from members’ notifications — a sensitive issue for some members who insisted that any additional information they supply should be handled entirely separate from official notifications.
Delegations have not been able to meet some of the deadlines for replying to the questionnaires and several said they would respond soon.
Although members said they were willing to discuss the proposals seriously, some repeated their reservations, including whether isolating these particular issues would upset the balance of the 2008 draft.
Some suggested that even if there is agreement on tariff quota administration, this would have to be balanced against some other agreement.
Members should discuss whether they are seeking to re-open the text on tariff quota administration, which would be a complex negotiation and would require an early start on technical deliberations; or alternatively, they could consider their differences as simply a question of political will, which could be left to be resolved when political preparations take place for the Bali conference in December, said one delegation (Norway), which preferred the political option rather than re-opening the text.
Some said they remain concerned that public stockholding that involves price support would undermine the WTO Agriculture Agreement’s distinction between domestic support that distorts trade (the Amber Box) and support that does not (the Green Box).
A number of countries also repeated their call for the Secretariat to circulate compiled information on export restrictions in parallel with the planned paper on export competition (measures involving direct or indirect export subsidies).
Japan noted that 2013 is the Year of the Snake, which protects harvests — perhaps it will protect a “harvest” in Bali, Japan suggested. The US called 2013 “the Year of the Questionnaire.”
More focused talks from mid-February, formats and dates to be announced.
Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said in the meeting:
The chair’s statements:
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.
Updated 21 January 2013: to correct the comment attributed to Norway
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