WTO: 2014 NEWS ITEMS

AGRICULTURE NEGOTIATIONS: INFORMAL MEETING


NOTE:
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.

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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)

2013–14: The Bali Package (December 2013 and November 2014 decisions on agriculture and cotton)

 

I don’t think it’s really given us a clear indication of where we will go — that will need a significant change from where we are now

 “It’s good to have the old gang back here again,” Canada said, referring to the agriculture attachés (and in some cases ambassadors) who said they were now committed to resume hard talking after months of impasse.

However, chairperson John Adank observed that the comments from almost all members, either directly or through their group coordinators did not take the talks any further forward than the last meeting on 23 July, four and a half months previously.

“I think for those who had forgotten the issues, and the positions of each other on those issues, that the meeting served a useful purpose, at least to bring us back to where we were, although I don’t think it’s really given us a clear indication of where we will go — that will need a significant change from where we are now,” he said, wrapping up the two-hour meeting. (See the texts of his opening and closing statements, or listen to audio.)

Meeting deadlines

The General Council’s 27 November decisions set two deadlines for the agriculture negotiations. One is the target of agreeing on a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security in developing countries by the end of 2015.

The present decision, agreed at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, is an interim “peace clause” that shields existing stockholding programmes from legal challenge if purchases at government-set prices take developing countries’ above the limits they have agreed for trade-distorting domestic support — provided they avoid distorting trade (ie, affecting prices and volumes on world markets) or impacting other countries’ food security, and supply information to show they are meeting those conditions (the issue is explained here).

The other deadline is to prepare a Post-Bali work programme for concluding the 13-year-old Doha Round, in which agriculture is one of several subjects: the new deadline is July 2015, seven months later than the original target of the end of 2014.

Comments

The G–33 and some of its members speaking individually reminded delegations that the group had tabled a proposal for the permanent solution for public stockholding on 16 July. While this group and other delegations said they would work on the permanent solution (one repeating its caution that stockholding programmes should not affect exports), they spent much of the time reminding each other of their positions in the broader agriculture negotiations as they geared up to discuss the Post-Bali work programme in the first half of 2105.

Among the points made for the work programme were calls for:

  • ambitious outcomes (from the Cairns Group and its members), including unblocking South-South trade (from some developing countries in the group)
  • a focus on the remaining difficult issues in the December 2008 draft text (known as “Rev.4”)as identified by the chairperson without “destabilizing” the rest of the text (from a number of countries)
  • a more pragmatic approach in order to break the deadlock (from countries advocating more flexibility over the 2008 draft)
  • preserving special treatment for developing countries including gentler or no tariff cuts for “special products” and a flexible “special safeguard mechanism“ for developing countries to raise tariffs and protect their farmers temporarily (the G–33 and like-minded developing countries)
  • disciplines on export restrictions (from net-food-importing developed countries)

Some countries also suggested different types of meetings to enable a consensus on the work programme, including technical meetings or sessions involving ambassadors or officials from capitals.

Speakers included: the G–20 (Brazil speaking, and for itself), Cairns Group (Australia, and for itself), G–10 (Switzerland), African Group (Lesotho), Tropical Products Group (Costa Rica, and for itself), G–33 (Indonesia), least developed countries (Zambia), Chile, Paraguay, Russia, EU, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong China, Canada, New Zealand, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Philippines, Rep. Korea, Argentina, US, African-Caribbean-Pacific group (Botswana), Japan, Cuba, Kenya, China, Mexico, Chinese Taipei, Guatemala, Turkey, Norway. (Details of group are here.)

What’s next?

Chairperson Adank, who is New Zealand’s ambassador said: “Some delegations have referred to the need for technical level meetings. Some have referred to the importance of thinking about when capitals should engage in discussions.

“In both of these cases, what I would say is that the key thing is that we have to proceed in a way that we are prepared to take forward the substance of the issues before us and if a more engaged working-level discussion may be required — sometimes ambassadors can benefit from those discussions too, I’ve found — then we will do that.

“Likewise related to this issue of capital engagement, then the message that I would send to you now is that you should engage your capitals immediately on what we have to do here in Geneva in the next six months. Even if they’re not going to travel to Geneva immediately to sit in meetings like this, the key thing is they need to be informing what you are able to say and to contribute to this discussion.”

He added that he would continue the practice of holding consultations among smaller groups of countries most interested in a particular topic before bringing the issues to the wider membership.

 

Chairperson’s statements

Audio

Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said in the meeting:

The chair’s statements:

 

Opening statement

As indicated in my convening fax, the purpose of the meeting is to review and discuss the organisation of our future work programme across all aspects of our mandate, including the Decisions taken by the General Council on 27 November 2014 on Post-Bali Work (pdf) and on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes.

I thought it would be useful to make a short report first on the cotton meetings we held last Friday and then secondly, to help refresh memories, I would like to recall where we were left things when we last met at the end at the end of July

This is the first negotiating group meeting since the General Council, and I very much hope we can send a positive message or signal about the readiness of delegations to engage constructively in line with the commitment we all underlined last week.

As you will recall, the 27 November General Council Decision on post-Bali work calls for an immediate resumption of work on the implementation of all Bali Ministerial Decisions, including on the preparation of a clearly defined work programme on the remaining DDA [Doha Development Agenda or Doha Round] issues as mandated by the Bali Declaration. The General Council Decision set the new deadline for establishing the Work Programme to July 2015.

As per paragraph 1.11 of the Bali Declaration, members agreed that the issues of the Bali package where legally binding outcomes could not be achieved should be pursued as a priority.

In addition, by the General Council Decision on Public Stockholding adopted last week, the negotiation on a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes must be pursued on priority, in dedicated sessions of this group. Members will recall that prior to the summer break there was a lack of clarity about where the work for a permanent solution on public stockholding would be taken up — so it is useful to have that clarification. Members undertook to engage constructively to negotiate and make all concerted efforts to agree and adopt a permanent solution by 31 December 2015.

It’s clear from this background that here in the Special Session [ie, the agriculture negotiations meetings] we have substantial work to progress in 2015 in the period ahead, with deadlines indicated for this work.

So, we have our hands full. I do not expect any intense work to start before the New Year, but the purpose today was to give you an opportunity to express your initial views on how we may best prepare for the way ahead, so as to leave you time over the year-end break to reflect on those views and come back ready to engage in intensive discussions. I will convene further meetings in the New Year taking into account what we hear today from you and any further consultations with members that may be held in coming weeks before we next convene. As always, my door is open to any delegation who wishes to consult me at any time on the work of the committee.

But before opening the floor, I thought it would be useful to make a short report first on the cotton meetings we held last Friday and then secondly, to help refresh memories, I would like to recall where we were left things when we last met at the end at the end of July because that’s very much where we are.

Cotton

As you know, I chaired last Friday the second dedicated discussion of the relevant trade-related developments for cotton as mandated by the Bali Decision on Cotton. Several delegations saw the meeting as an immediate and positive signal of the renewed engagement immediately following the impasse that was resolved last week. Discussions were based on the revised Secretariat background paper and while members commented on the paper and the useful information that it had we also had a number of statements of regret about the delays by members in submitting notifications.

Various Members also shared information on recent developments related to cotton and the meeting benefitted from a presentation by the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC). At the end of the meeting it was agreed, in preparation for the third dedicated discussion to be held by mid-2015, that additional information on relevant recent policy developments would be sought through a questionnaire, that the Secretariat would look to information in TPR [trade policy review] reports and as well as ongoing information provided by ICAC at our meeting, which members indicated they found very useful.

I also noted that cotton will be an important element of our reflection on the way forward for our unfinished business, in the context of the post-Bali work programme.

Where we got to in July

In the last meeting on 23 July just before the summer break, I informed you about my informal consultations that aimed at clarifying the different perspectives members had on the way forward for the Bali work programme in agriculture. I reported on the two technical workshops — one on Domestic Support and the other on Market Access — that the Secretariat held in July following a request from some members. The aim of these workshops was to help deepen understanding at the technical level of issues that have come up in the course of the negotiations so far. I attended those workshops, sitting very much in the background, but I think they were quite useful in reminding members of the kinds of issues, concepts and elements that we need to devote much greater attention to if we are to if we are to progress our work in the special session.

As I reported on 23 July, it was clear that all elements within the DDA [Doha Development Agenda or Doha Round] agriculture framework are inter-related and there seemed to be a general acceptance that they will need to be dealt with as an overall package. I also commented that I felt that in terms of potential landing zones, the product of the past negotiations on export competition seemed to be accepted as an important basis for our further work in this area, something that I think ministers clearly underlined in their declaration on export competition in Bali.

However, it was also recognized that the domestic support and market access pillars — where I think a range of significantly more contentious issues have been raised in our discussions — are areas requiring more in-depth discussion among members. Therefore, to take these discussions forward, I circulated on 15 July a set of questions concerning these two pillars and encouraged you to reflect on them. These questions were (not necessarily for answers today):

On Domestic support:

  • How do you see the various elements in the domestic support pillar now, particularly as they relate to level(s) of ambition, flexibilities, and the contributions envisaged for different members?
  • If you consider that some aspects/elements from past negotiations need to be reconsidered while still achieving the stated mandate, what alternative approaches would you suggest?

On Market Access:

  • How do you see the elements in the market access pillar now, particularly as they relate to level(s) of ambition and flexibilities, and the contributions envisaged for different members?
  • If you consider that some aspects/elements from past negotiations need to be reconsidered, while still achieving the stated mandate, what alternatives would you suggest should be explored?
  • Some members have suggested that a “simplified approach” to market access might achieve an appropriate level of ambition while providing general flexibility for members. What would/might such an approach involve? What would this mean in terms of outcomes compared with approaches evolved in the past?
  • Do you see any other ways of assisting in achieving the stated mandate?

In putting forward all those questions, I hope to have made it very clear that there was no pre-judgement behind any of those questions. The main objective was to get delegations thinking much more deeply about some of the issues that we’re going to have to confront if we’re going to make progress. And on 23 July some members did provide initial reactions to these questions. But it’s also clear that other members appeared somewhat constrained to engage more deeply in this discussion, given the fact not only that they may have felt that their own thoughts would need to evolve over a longer period of time, but given that it was still unclear at that time and has remained unclear until very recently, how the impasse over public stockholding and trade facilitation would be resolved. Happily that is now resolved and behind us.

I continue to think that these questions should provide a useful focus for further reflection and exchange of views among members as we approach our process for moving forward.

In the same meeting, the G-33 introduced three proposals — on Public Stockholding (JOB/AG/27), Special Products (JOB/AG/28), and SSM (JOB/AG/29) — that had been circulated to the members a week before.

So that’s where things were left, and it’s four and a half months ago. It’s useful for members to reacquaint themselves with all of that at this point, because we need to build on where we got to, rather than start from scratch again. We need to take account of the discussions we had earlier in the year and try and work out how we can move forward according to the Bali mandate and now the more recent General Council Decisions on post-Bali work and public stockholding for food security purposes.

I therefore now open the floor to any delegation wishing to offer its views on the way ahead for the work within the Special Session, arising from the work programme agreed at Bali and the associated General Council decisions adopted last week. My hope would be that in the period ahead members will indeed be able to focus in a very practical way on the challenges ahead, recognise the need to get to substance quickly, since only in this way will 2015 be able to deliver in line with the expectations we have set for ourselves.

 

Closing statement

With all of those statements today, we’ve heard from practically every member in terms of members who are represented in groups or individual delegations or at least a substantial proportion of members. As some have said, it’s useful after four and a half months when we haven’t had any discussions at all that we reacquaint ourselves with the subject that we’re now seized with taking forward.

What I’ve always encouraged members to do, is to go further than simply talk with members who share your views and really spend a bit of time trying to interact with others who clearly don’t

I think for those who had forgotten the issues, and the positions of each other on those issues, that the meeting served a useful purpose, at least to bring us back to where we were, although I don’t think it’s really given us a clear indication of where we will go — that will need a significant change from where we are now.

I think it’s fair to say that the first six months of this year, when we were carefully trying to scope out the issues, was a period where we ended up carrying out an overall survey of the concerns of members, the things that seemed to stand in the way of consensus. But it was also a period where to a large extent the discussions were going on within individual delegations or within individual groups. I don’t think that things evolved very much beyond that in that period. It’s clear to me that in order to do what we said we would do — that we agreed to do last week in the General Council — that you will all have to reach across to each other to recognize the different perspectives that others may have, that stand in the way of where you may yourselves want to go, and recognize that we will need to arrive at some consensus that will necessarily involve compromises.

What I’ve always encouraged members to do, is to go further than simply talk with members who share your views and really spend a bit of time trying to interact with others who clearly don’t because that’s the only way we will be able to take things forward, by facing up to the obstacles that we need to overcome in order to achieve consensus. Now that we have these deadlines from last week, we have a much greater impetus to do that than before.

In terms of how we will organize the work in the period ahead. For today I don’t plan to outline how that work will proceed. What we have recognized today is that we have two important strands to our work agreed last week in the General Council: dedicated sessions on public stockholding for food security, distinct from the dedicated discussions around the work programme, which will encompass those three pillars. There are differing levels of complexity around those pillars, and we also have to work out how those complexities can take us forward in a way that may take us towards consensus.

The notion that some of spoken of, of having very focused discussions on a series of issues is certainly what I would like to do, but I would also just note that how things will evolve in this committee will need to be driven by members. It’s often clear within this room that sometimes we can only make progress if we have ensured in advance of meetings that we have had earlier consultations, with, in some cases, the most affected or most interested members, on particular issues. It would be my intention to continue that practice, which has always been part of this organization, of trying to engage very directly with delegations in a variety of formats, to take issues forward.

Looking ahead, I would ask you all to reflect carefully on the challenge ahead until July and also until December of next year. In effect when we come back next year, given the fact that January often starts a little later than 1 January, with a whole range of other things that occur in our calendar in January, we have got very limited and quite tight time-frame for taking our work forward. That will help ensure we take this task very seriously.

Some delegations have referred to the need for technical level meetings. Some have referred to the importance of thinking about when capitals should engage in discussions. In both of these cases, what I would say is that the key thing is that we have to proceed in a way that we are prepared to take forward the substance of the issues before us and if a more engaged working-level discussion may be required — sometimes ambassadors can benefit from those discussions too, I’ve found — then we will do that. Likewise related to this issue of capital engagement, then the message that I would send to you now is that you should engage your capitals immediately on what we have to do here in Geneva in the next six months. Even if they’re not going to travel to Geneva immediately to sit in meetings like this, the key thing is they need to be informing what you are able to say and to contribute to this discussion.

So I’d leave my comments at that. As I say, I think this has been useful, as Canada said, in getting the gang back together again. I’m hoping that the gang will cooperate and constructively engage in the period ahead, and I will be in contact definitely in January with further views on how we take things forward. In the meantime, delegations, my door is open, come and talk to me about anything that is of concern.

With that, I’ll close the meeting and wish you a happy holiday season, and look forward to the New Year.

 

Next

To be announced

 

Explanation

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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About negotiating texts:

• bracketed

• “Job document”

• modality, modalities

• schedules

• templates

 
Issues:

• Amber box

• Blue box

• box

• de minimis

• distortion

• export competition

• Green box

• pro-rating

• sensitive products

• special products (SP)

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