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)
Some members also warned that the agriculture talks and the Doha Round negotiations as a whole could be jeopardized because of a deadlock in trade facilitation talks, on how to place an early decision on trade facilitation within the package of Doha Round subjects. Director-General Roberto Azevêdo referred to this in his report to the Trade Negotiations Committee on 25 June 2014.
The chairperson, Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand, said he convened the meeting — the second of the year — to allow members to share ideas on how to progress in agriculture as part of the broader task of agreeing by December 2014 on a work programme for concluding the Doha Round. This target was set at the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference. (Below are his statements in audio and the written speaking notes.)
He said he had little to add to his recent reports on the latest state of play in the agriculture negotiations, made in a meeting on cotton on 20 June, and in the Trade Negotiations Committee on 25 June.
“The crucial element to make progress is real engagement on substance,” he said, “that goes beyond simply restating what individual delegations or groups of delegations may want but involves a genuine dialogue aimed at identifying compromises with other delegations who may have quite different priorities that they also need to have accommodated in the agriculture and broader Doha negotiations. In short, it’s about getting to ‘yes’ rather than being resigned to staying at ‘no’.”
If members are genuinely seeking results, they should take the initiative, meet among themselves and probe each other’s proposals in depth, he went on. “The alternative to this kind of deeper discussion is that we simply tread water and stay where we are.”
He asked them to indicate what they could contribute towards reaching agreement rather than repeating existing positions, but he also said members might be reticent in a meeting of the full membership, and this proved to be the case. While delegations said they were willing to listen to others, few produced specific ideas in this meeting.
Return to tariff cuts based on average?
One delegation suggested that the present draft (from 2008) could be simplified by using average tariff cuts instead of the present proposed formulas, which would set fixed reductions depending on whether present tariff ceilings (or “bound” tariff rates) are high or low.
Because the present formulas prescribe tight reduction rates, negotiators seeking to deal with politically sensitive products have devised a number of methods to allow countries to deviate from the formulas. This, the delegation said, makes the 2008 draft so complicated that it has been a major cause of the deadlock in the negotiations.
Setting average reduction rates would leave countries free to choose which products are sensitive (and therefore have smaller tariff cuts) without having to meet complicated criteria, it said.
Average reduction targets allow countries to decide which products have steep cuts and which have small cuts, so long as the average is met. This would be similar to the reductions made in the 1986–94 Uruguay Round, which led to the present tariff ceilings in members’ commitments.
Several delegations said they would like to see the proposal in writing and in more detail. Similar responses were heard about other comments about the need to simplify the December 2008 draft (known as the draft “modalities”, document TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4, often shortened to “Rev.4”), or to update it to take the current situation in agricultural trade into account.
Members repeated their positions on sticking closely to the draft or modifying it in significant areas, although several said they could listen to arguments for changing the draft provided specific proposals are submitted.
One repeated its call for geographical indications (names used to identify the origin and characteristics of products) to be part of a deal, and another did the same on export restrictions. Both positions are opposed by some members who say these subjects are not part of the negotiating mandate.
Speakers in the two-and-a-half hour meeting included: the G–33 (China speaking), the Cairns Group (Australia speaking), Australia, the G–20 (Brazil speaking), Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, Costa Rica, Turkey, small and vulnerable economies (Dominican Rep speaking), Guatemala, African Group (Lesotho speaking), Argentina, Oman, the US, Canada, G–10 (Switzerland speaking), Columbia, Benin, China, Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, India, EU, Hong Kong China, Chile, Rep. Korea, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Egypt, Zambia, Cuba, Bolivia.
Ambassador Adank said the meeting was like a class reunion after a long break. Members said they were willing to work with the chairperson, he went on, but they should work with each other, even with classmates they used to dislike.
He agreed to a call for the Secretariat to refresh delegates’ understanding of the 2008 draft, but stressed that this would only be technical and factual and that the meeting would not be part of the negotiations.
Some members said agriculture and the rest of the Doha Round is at risk because of the failure to agree on trade facilitation. One member objected on the grounds that this was not a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee and therefore trade facilitation had no place in the discussion.
In the Bali decision on trade facilitation members have agreed to revise the text that they agreed in Bali so that it is legally correct, without altering the content, by the end of July 2014.
To be announced. Possibly another meeting before the end of Julyback to top
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.
Chairperson’s statement back to top
Use these links to download the audio files or to listen to what he said in the meeting:
The chair’s statements:
back to top
Speaking notes of the Chair, Ambassador John Adank
Informal meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Special Session, 3 July 2014
As indicated in my convening fax, the objective of this meeting is to provide for transparency and full participation concerning discussions on the agriculture negotiations, and to provide for an exchange of views on progress towards the work programme mandated at Bali.
As outlined by the Director General during the Trade Negotiation Committee on 25 June, we are now in the second phase of our discussions on the DDA work programme, which should focus on finding potential solutions to the problems that we have identified.
My intention today is to give you an opportunity to present as extensively as possible to the wider membership your views and ideas on how to progress on the agricultural component of the work programme to be agreed by December.
While I recognise that we cannot expect to eliminate it altogether, I would like to encourage you to go beyond restating traditional positions, flagging your red lines and reiterating what you want from others. All this is well known.
What I would invite you to do is to give indications, as specific as possible, on what you consider as a possible balanced way forward, taking into account what we have learned to date and in particular the various discussions and consultations you have participated in since the beginning of the year. My hope would be that in doing this you would also be able to indicate what you would yourself be able to contribute to assist in arriving at outcomes that are balanced and politically realistic in terms of the interests of the entire membership.
On my side, I don’t have anything more to report on substance than what I presented at the TNC last week. My report has been circulated to delegations last week and copied are available in the room.
State of play. Just to summarise the points in that report very briefly.
Export Competition remains an area where we have a very well-developed idea of the potential landing zone but delivering on this remains closely linked to agreements that need to be reached in the other two pillars which are clearly more challenging.
On both Domestic Support and Market Access a range of issues have come up in the consultations which highlight divergent views across the membership — views that will need to be bridged to arrive at any consensus.
Before I open the floor, let me finish with a couple of words on process.
My intention in the period until the summer break is to continue consultations in a more focussed way particularly on Domestic Support and Market Access, where there is clearly a much greater divergence at a conceptual level on what could constitute the key parameters of an acceptable landing zone than is the case with Export Competition.
However, it remains absolutely clear that the negotiations will have to move forward in parallel within the three pillars in agriculture, and more generally between agriculture and the other areas of the DDA negotiations.
The crucial element to make progress is real engagement on substance that goes beyond simply restating what individual delegations or groups of delegations may want but involves a genuine dialogue aimed at identifying compromises with other delegations who may have quite different priorities that they also need to have accommodated in the agriculture and broader Doha negotiations. In short, it’s about getting to “yes” rather than being resigned to staying at “no”.
How can you assist this process?
Well, in my view if members are truly in a results-oriented mode, they will be taking the initiative now to explore ideas on delegations that may help respond to the challenges they see in the negotiations, particularly in relation to domestic support and market access where most of the concerns reside.
This does not necessarily have to happen in this room today — as I’ve said in the past often open-ended meetings are not the best vehicle for allowing for a free and frank exploration of ideas and evolution of member positions. But it needs to occur somewhere — in bilateral or small group settings that members might themselves initiate.
And likewise I would encourage members engaged by others on this front to actively and constructively question what various proposals or any new suggestions may mean in practice in terms of their interests and to consider ways and means in which any ideas might, if its possible, be directed down a path conducive of consensus. You may have questions in response to the points some members raise today in their interventions. I’d encourage you to pursue these further so that we actually start a dialogue. The alternative to this kind of deeper discussion is that we simply tread water and stay where we are.
Some members have suggested to me that I should also assist discussions by posing questions of my own in order to jump start some greater engagement. This approach has been used in the past, and I am reflecting further on this in terms of the further consultations that may be held in coming weeks. My main point on this would be that I’m very conscious that the responsibility remains with members to take the discussions where they want them to go. The Chair can play a facilitative role in this but that is all.
Some specifics. Finally a couple of comments on some specific aspects of our discussions.
As regards Cotton, which remains an important element of our negotiation agenda, my intention is also to hold in due course consultations with interested Members on the way forward.
On both Export Competition as on Cotton, the negotiation process is informed by the processes put in place by the Ministers in Bali to enhance transparency and monitoring.
In the case of Export Competition, the first dedicated discussion took place during the regular Committee on Agriculture on 5 June and the second one is planned for June 2015.
In the case of Cotton, we had the first dedicated discussion on 20 June. We will take up this work again before the end of the year as mandated by Ministers at Bali. My intention is to convene the next session back-to-back with the next session of Director General’s consultations on the development aspects of cotton.
If you count the list, I think we’ve probably had over 30 speakers. We’ve had a very wide-ranging set of views expressed today. To me, the meeting has had the character of a class reunion after a few years when everyone comes back and tries to reacquaint each other with who they are and what they believe in. But we also see, I think, that there are new elements as well in the discussion that people have to take note of, and that they will have to engage on if we are to make further progress.
I think all members have said they want to work very much with me in taking this work forward. Butut if I could just say: you have to work very much with each other — perhaps some of those classmates you didn’t really get along with so well in the past. But we have the opportunity now, if we’re going to arrive at an agreed work programme. We’ve really got to reach out.
Today — I think this applies to everyone — certain ideas have been set out by members, which you may agree with, which you may disagree with, or which you may have lots of questions about. You may think: that idea, what’s behind it, how far does this go, what does it mean for my interests overall?
I would encourage you all, as I said at the beginning, to approach delegations that have raised issues, which either jar with you or accord with your views, to find out exactly where those issues stand, so that you can know what other members are actually trying to seek in this negotiation moving forward.
I’m not going to dwell at all on the issue of “Rev.4” or an alternative. We’ve walked through that territory fairly well in the past. The reality here is that until we get an overall agreement, we don’t have an overall agreement. So we need, on the one hand, to put forward position in support of Rev.4, for those of you here who have particular positions, but also to hear the positions of others, which are raising questions about those positions and perhaps thinking even more broadly about how you can bridge the differences between those two positions. Only in that way are we going to make some progress.
What I took out of the discussion today was a very strong support by members for the fact that we do very definitely need to deepen our discussions with each other on the actual substance of what we’re talking about in the post-Bali work programme. I will reflect on exactly how we can best do that, always bearing in mind that this open-ended session of the committee performs an important role for broader transparency and I think there should be at least one more opportunity before the summer break, to come back to this committee in broader detail to discuss the issues, particularly domestic support and market access, which are where the key challenges lie.
I don’t think at all that we should see this committee as the place where we come to talk about agriculture — and not to talk about it at any other time. We have to have discussions amongst members, some of which I myself will initiate, but I would also urge members themselves to initiate their own discussions with fellow-members that are aimed at getting a better understanding of where each one of you are in terms of perspectives, and what are the possibilities for actually bridging different perspectives. I don’t think we’ll make much use of this broader open-ended body unless we do that. So I’d encourage you all to do that, and I will be giving consideration to how I can also encourage members in this direction.
Proposed technical session. There was also another element in the discussion of a more technical nature. A couple of members referred their interest in having additional background on the various technical components that underline the agriculture architecture. What we’ve got at the moment under the Agreement on Agriculture and some of the concepts that were developed over the years in the course of the negotiation.
As I see it would be quite possible for the Secretariat to assist in convening a factual/information exercise that would simply perform the function of reminding delegations of the key components of what we’re actually trying to discuss and negotiate here. This would not, of course be an exercise of negotiation. It would not be an exercise where the Secretariat could interpret proposals or express any views about their value or talk about their consequences for members. It would simply be a normal, traditional technical assistance-type activity, which the Secretariat, in accordance with its neutrality and the role that it plays, would take forward.
I, myself, as chair might find this quite useful, so I might sit myself down at the back of the room as well, if they were to do this. But I do repeat that this would need to be done very much as an exercise outside the formal committee structure. It’s not part of the negotiating process but it does provide a useful context for that process.
I’ll talk to the Secretariat before the summer break to see what can be done in that area. There may well be some more specific issues that members may want to mention to the Secretariat in that regard. I think we can rely on the Secretariat to ensure that it acts within its normal information-type mandate here.
I think we could use the time very productively if you were to go out today to at least one delegation who’s raised a point that you need to explore and actually have conversation with them about that point so that you are better equipped for the further discussions that you’ve all said you want to have during the course of July.
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