The informal negotiations meeting — officially a “special session” of the Agriculture Committee — focused on whether the present draft text should continue to be the centre-piece of the negotiations. This last discussion on agriculture before the WTO’s August break also received the first three proposals in the talks since the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, although all three essentially repeated earlier submissions.
None of this will be useful if we don’t follow up with each other.
Before the meeting, members received a communication from chairperson John Adank on the full range of topics covered by the agriculture negotiations, with questions focusing particularly on domestic support and market access.
“Concerning the state of our work, it is clear that all elements within the DDA [Doha Development Agenda or Doha Round] agriculture framework are inter-related and there seems to be a general acceptance that they will need to be dealt with as an overall package,” he told negotiators.
“In recent discussions, however, it has been recognized that the domestic support and market access pillars are areas requiring more in-depth discussion among members.”
- Audio of the chairperson’s statements is below
- His 3-part speaking notes are here
One of the overarching questions is to what extent negotiators should stick with the document currently on the table — the December 2008 draft (known as the draft “modalities”, document TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4, often shortened to “Rev.4”).
Members of the G–33 group of developing countries said they should. They said the talks should concentrate on 10 issues that have been identified as the most clearly unresolved in the draft. These are listed as “issues bracketed or otherwise annotated” in the then chairperson’s report of 22 March 2010 (counting tropical products and preferences as two issues).
Some others said that while they consider “Rev.4” to be the most suitable for continuing the talks, they would be open to alternative approaches in some key features of the text, provided those seeking changes provided detail. These included members of the Cairns Group, which is seeking radical reform in agricultural trade.
One delegation said it could accept the draft “tomorrow” even though there are parts it dislikes. Another observed that a large number of countries with diverse perspectives on the negotiations shared the view that the “Rev.4” draft should be the basis of the talks.
Rev.4 too complex?
A few members continued to argue that “Rev.4” is too complex, and they said this was the reason why members have failed to strike a deal. One expanded slightly on its suggestion that the formula for cutting tariffs could be replaced by using averages. However, it added that this is not a proposal, just an idea, and did not provide details. Another said the lengthy draft provisions for sensitive products, which would have smaller tariff reductions than under the proposed formula, are so complicated that few people understand them.
The present proposed formula would cut tariff ceilings precisely, according to their current levels. Higher ceilings would have steeper cuts. Average reduction targets allow countries to decide which products have steep cuts and which are sensitive, having small cuts, so long as the average is met.
Some members defended the present proposed tariff formula itself, arguing that it is not complicated and would ensure that the most protected products would have the steepest tariff reductions. Rather, they argued, it is the numerous deviations from it that are complicated, and they cautioned that using averages could allow countries to avoid making steep cuts on heavily protected products.
Some added that the present draft provisions on domestic support would also curb countries’ ability to evade making ambitious reductions to the agreed limits on their support, by making it more difficult to shift support between different categories or between products (sometimes called “box shifting”). This is because the draft sets an overall limit on all trade-distorting domestic support as well as for each of its components.
The G–33 group of developing countries introduced its proposals on public stockholding for food security in developing countries, on “special products” for which developing countries are to be given extra flexibility to make smaller or no tariff reductions, for food and livelihood security and rural development., and a “special safeguard mechanism” allowing developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily in special situations.
The proposals essentially repeat the group’s earlier contributions. The one for a permanent solution on public stockholding is almost the same as the original November 2012 proposal. In Bali ministers decided to aim for a permanent solution by the 2017 ministerial conference.
The G–33 wants to amend the Agriculture Agreement so that government purchases at supported prices for stockholding in developing countries — to benefit low-income farmers or those who lack resources and for food security — would be allowed without limits. It arose because some developing countries said that they risked exceeding their present agreed limits because of the way the size of the support is calculated.
The interim agreement reached in Bali added conditions to deal with fears that these policies could distort international markets and hurt farmers in other countries, including a requirement to provide up-to-date information on the use of stockholding policies and on domestic support in general so that members can monitor the situation. The interim decision will remain in force until a permanent one is agreed.
Since Bali, the public stockholding decision has been handled in a separate series of meetings: the “regular” Agriculture Committee which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of current agreements. However the Bali agreement includes work on negotiating the permanent solution. One member said the G–33 had previously argued that public stock holding should be handled by the regular committee rather than the negotiations sessions, and asked the group to clarify its position. The G–33 said it would circulate an answer before the August break.
The discussion of other topics — the first time they have been aired for several years — heard repeats of some original positions, including the debate over possible constraints on special products and the special safeguard mechanism and whether tariffs should be capped to ensure that extra-high rates are kept within limits.
One country said that the negotiations should yield at least some predictable improvements in market access in major developing countries (excluding the least-developed and small and vulnerable economies), and that the G–33’s proposals for special products and the special safeguard mechanism undermine that.
Bali and Doha packages
Some members also repeated their commitment to fulfilling all the Bali decisions within the different timetables that ministers set for the various subjects. 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. Failure to meet that deadline would undermine the agriculture negotiations and the Doha Round, they said.
The comments were aroused by a deadlock in trade facilitation talks, which Director-General Roberto Azevêdo referred to this in his report to the Trade Negotiations Committee on 25 June 2014. The issue is due to come up in the General Council on 24–25 July.
Speakers, several of them ambassadors, in the 3-hour meeting included: the G–33 (Indonesia speaking), the Cairns Group (Australia speaking), Australia, the G–20 (Brazil speaking), Pakistan, Paraguay, the EU, the African Caribbean and Pacific group (Kenya speaking), Kenya, Nigeria, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, African Group (Lesotho speaking), the US, Uruguay, Colombia, least developed countries (Uganda speaking), Uganda, New Zealand, G–10 (Switzerland speaking), Bolivia, Jamaica, Norway, Hong Kong China, Peru, Barbados, China, Guatemala, Argentina, Rep. Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Turkey, Mexico, India, South Africa, Venezuela, Brazil.
To be announced, after the August break.
Explanation back 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 statements 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:
Speaking notes of the Chair, Ambassador John Adank
Informal meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Special Session
23 July 2014 back to top
As indicated in my convening fax, the objective of this meeting is to provide a further opportunity for transparency and discussions on the agriculture negotiations and to provide for an exchange of views on progress on the work programme mandated at Bali.
The way I intend to proceed today is to make a short report of what has happened since the last CoA SS [Committee on Agriculture Special Session, ie, negotiations meeting] on 3 July. Then I will give the floor to any delegation wishing to introduce new contributions or proposals. Following this, I look forward to your reactions to the questions that I circulated to you in advance of this meeting.
Since the last CoA SS on 3 July, I have pursued my informal consultations aimed at clarifying the perspectives that members have on the way forward for the Bali work programme in agriculture. As usual, I have done this in a variety of configurations with individual delegations, groups and group representatives.
I also asked the Secretariat to hold two technical workshops, following a request by some members, to help deepen understanding at the technical level of issues that have come up in the course of the negotiations so far. The first one, on domestic support, took place on 8 July and the second, on Market Access, on 10 July. I understand that delegations found these useful, as I did.
Concerning the state of our work, it is clear that all elements within the DDA [Doha Development Agenda, or Doha Round] agriculture framework are inter-related and there seems to be a general acceptance that they will need to be dealt with as an overall package. In recent discussions, however, it has been recognized that the domestic support and market access pillars are areas requiring more in-depth discussion among members.
To take these discussions forward, I circulated on 15 July a set of questions concerning the Domestic Support and Market Access pillars and encouraged you to reflect on them. This is an initial effort to focus on the more detailed substance of the negotiations in these two areas. It should also be stressed that this is, as always, without prejudice to the different perspectives delegations have about the Rev.4 draft modalities text. As I just mentioned, we will turn to these questions shortly. This concludes my brief update.
I would now like to offer the floor to those delegations who have submitted new proposals for consideration.
As I said at the beginning of the meeting, what I wanted to do for this meeting today was invite reactions from delegations on the state of play and the questions that I circulated on 15 July. As I said in the fax that I sent out, the focus that I put in that note does not mean that any other issue that isn’t addressed in the note is less important. It reflects that in some areas we do have a clearer idea of some potential landing zones, although, delivering on those landing zones remains closely linked to agreements that need to be reached in the market access and domestic support pillars. In the same vein, I would note that cotton is also an important element of the DDA agriculture negotiations, and will remain part of the up-coming discussions on the elaboration of a more clearly defined work programme. And of course, we have discussions that are separately mandated from Bali which, hopefully, will impact usefully in area.
Now, coming back to Domestic Support. What I said in the note is that, in the course of the negotiations, members have evolved different elements to be used to fulfil the Doha mandate of substantially reducing trade-distorting support. In my fax, I outlined a number of those elements, and noted that in the negotiations, what we’ve been trying to do is arrive at a certain mix of those various elements and their treatment in order to achieve an agreed landing zone. The mix, that we’re able to agree on, will relate to both ambition and flexibility for members, and in some cases, specific groups of members.
I won’t summarize the elements now because they are reflected very clearly in the note. But I did invite members to comment and reflect on how they saw those elements now as they relate to ambition, flexibilities and the various contributions envisaged. To the extent that any member considers that various elements need to be the subject of further reflection or reconsideration, what are the alternative ways in which that could be achieved?
Obviously, these questions are all designed for getting into a more interactive dialogue amongst members in order to pinpoint the issues and to identify clearer solutions.
Concerning Market Access, as you’ll see in the note, the core objective of agricultural market access negotiations is “substantial improvements in market access”. We need, therefore, to reflect on where the discussions have taken us in the past in this area and what the views are on how that might help or hinder us in the future. As with domestic support, those different elements in market access will collectively reflect objectives relating to both ambition and related flexibilities for members or specific groups of members. And, although I think I’ve recently been misquoted in Washington Trade Daily, I have noted correctly in my note that members do have differing views on whether the market access elements from the past, in their entirety, remain viable. Some suggestions have been made for more simplified approaches that would achieve an appropriate level of ambition while providing general flexibility. Other members have highlighted that they remain attached to the basic framework that’s been elaborated in the past and wish to focus on what they consider are the key outstanding issues from that framework. Of course, getting to an agreement and understanding on what are the key outstanding issues are is an initial challenge that we will need to explore as this dialogue evolves and develops.
You’ll see that I’ve put forward a number of questions on market access, as I have for domestic support. I won’t recite those questions, as delegations have them there and can respond to them.
The final thing that I will say before opening the floor is that the chair has put forward these questions, not as a way of seeking to limit or control the discussion or debate amongst members, but largely as a means to try and kick-starting the more interactive dialogue that we will need in order to take some of these issues further forward.
With that, I open the floor to delegations to hear any reactions at this stage. The floor is open.
I will make some very brief summing up comments. Certainly I don’t want to summarize the very full and diverse range of comments that have been made today, but I do think that the fact that we’ve had so many members coming forward and in a number of cases specifically addressing in greater detail some of the issues that I’ve highlighted, that we need to delve into in further in order to get towards any kind of solution identification, I think that’s a positive sign as we finish up before the summer break. None of these discussions that we’re having in this room or any other rooms will be that useful if we don’t follow up on them with each other.
What we’ve heard today provides the basis for some follow-up. A number of questions have been raised by members about different ideas. There’ve been some responses to those questions, but I also think that there may be further questions that members will need to follow up on, and that we will in the course of our on-going consultations, have to investigate further.
So I would just encourage you all — as I said at the last meeting — not walk out of this room and think that’s the last encounter on agriculture until the next open-ended special session. I think we need to keep up this dialogue wherever we go, and whenever we meet up with each other. I will have to take the informal consultative process forward after the summer break. Obviously, as has been clear, and as has been clear from my note, the informal consultative process, I will have to take forward in the weeks ahead after we come back after the summer break, and I’ll be reflecting very carefully on how we can best explore further some of these questions. I’d welcome delegations actually contacting me with some of their own reflections on some of this because — responding to Venezuela’s point about things being retired — I don’t think you can retire anything in the WTO unless you get a consensus around it.
What I see at the moment is that effectively in a number of areas we don’t have a clear consensus. What I do see is that in the last few months there is an understanding that in some areas there is a better idea of ultimately where consensus lies for some of the issues. But we still have some issues that we’ve been discussing fairly frankly today, but without getting into the level of detail that we need, where consensus still evades us.
So I’ll be thinking further about that and I would encourage you to also do that.
Clearly a number of delegations have made comments about the broader work programme agreed at Bali and how it relates to our work here. We note all of those comments. Obviously we are part of that broader work programme, but it’s also extremely clear that the agriculture component is seen as very important within that programme just as the other elements have been highlighted as crucially important by members. In terms of the way forward and the General Council tomorrow, I’ll be reporting briefly to the chair of the TNC [the Trade Negotiations Committee] about today’s meeting and what has come up in this meeting. I think my last note could serve as an informal update or report on where things are at the moment. The chair of the TNC — the DG [director-general] — will comment on this and other activities in the General Council tomorrow.
So with that, can I wish you all the best for your summer break, where I’m sure you’ll be lying on beaches around the world reflecting on OTDS, de minimis, AMS and various other concepts which you probably haven’t really got to the bottom of to the extent that you need to. And when you come back in September we all need to be very ready to work very, very hard on this mandate.