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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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)

The negotiations’ chairperson, New Zealand Ambassador John Adank, urged members to avoid a “sterile” debate about what is the best starting point for continuing the negotiations, and to focus instead on the nature of the issues that need to be settled and whether they can be resolved. (Below are his statements in audio and the written outlines.)

He said the time has come for countries’ capitals to renew their interest in the negotiations. He urged delegations not to waste time and to talk among themselves “because some of the best conversations are probably had outside the [meetings’] setting”. And he said he would test some of members’ detailed positions more firmly in order to explore the way ahead.

Members’ comments largely reflected the assessment he had made when he reported to the 14 March 2014 General Council meeting on his consultations with members (document TN/AG/27). He said he observed a “renewed engagement” among members but also a desire to learn about each other’s positions, and to develop greater clarity about the unresolved agricultural issues.

“The essential task remains to find through an honest, frank and pragmatic exchange of views how we can unlock progress, rather than remain at an impasse on issues that a large majority of members continue to regard as fundamental,” he said in the General Council report.

The latest discussion took place in the first meeting of the agriculture negotiations after the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, where members agreed to spend 2014 preparing a work programme for concluding the Doha Round (see the Ministerial Declaration, paragraph 1.11). They aimed to do so by building on the momentum of agreeing in Bali on a group of issues that were considered easier to settle.

Before the meeting, Ambassador Adank asked members three questions to kick off the planning. Most delegations said they are still considering their answers although many also made some preliminary points. The chairperson concluded that members have not yet reached a stage where negotiators are providing thoughts that would produce an outcome.

The questions were:

  • What do members consider to be the desirable and doable aims for ongoing discussions and negotiations in relation to the three inter-related pillars of agriculture?
  • What contributions do members consider they, and other members, need to make to this end?
  • What new information do members wish to bring forward, or would encourage others to bring forward, to update earlier discussions about policy settings and developments that may be relevant to the negotiations?


Base on “Rev.4”?

Members’ differences of view, on the starting point of the next phase in the negotiations, centre on whether to use the December 2008 “draft modalities” (sometimes called “Rev.4” because the document number is TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4). This is a document of over 100 pages containing formulas for reducing import tariffs, domestic support and export subsidies, and a large number of additional provisions to cater for members’ various sensitivities and vulnerabilities.

A large number of members argued that the text should be the basis for negotiating the rest of the Doha Round in agriculture. They said the text was the result of years of negotiations, reflecting a balance of interests, with large parts “stable” (ie, close to being agreed). Substantial changes to the text would undermine the negotiations by unravelling a potential deal, they warned.

A few disagreed. One said it has “considerable doubts” about whether this would work because the situation in agriculture has changed considerably. It said it has an open mind about how to proceed, but argued that this should be based on updated information and the latest situation.

Another said it accepts that the draft will be a reference document, but that some parts of an eventual agreement will be closer to the draft than others. A third observed that the draft is ambitious and this is reflected in the numerous “carveouts”. Members should discuss how ambitious the deal should be in order to answer the chairperson’s question on what is “doable”, this delegation said.

One country asked what the basis of the work would be if the draft was not used: would previous agreements also be dropped such as the 2004 “framework” (used as an outline that developed into the 2008 draft) or the original mandate from Doha?


Information and other issues

Several countries also stressed the need for “transparency”. In some cases this meant keeping all delegations informed about developments in the talks, under a repeated slogan that the talks should be “inclusive, transparent and bottom up (content coming from members)”.

In others, it meant members providing up-to-date information on their agricultural trade programmes, an obligation under the present Agriculture Agreement. Several said the discussions should look at the latest developments, including new agricultural legislation or policies in major players.

The chairperson pointed out that members are already slipping behind schedule on a new commitment to share information. Ministers pledged in Bali to keep export subsidies (and measures with similar effects, known officially as “export competition”) at low levels and to work towards eliminating them completely. They also said information should be provided so that they can monitor the situation, a task being undertaken in the regular Agriculture Committee.

Ambassador Adank pointed out that the deadline for replying to a questionnaire circulated by the Secretariat was 28 March, the day of the meeting, and that by then only seven members had replied.

Delegations speaking as groups or individually broadly repeated their main concerns in the negotiations. Some stressed the need for balance across the various subjects, or special consideration for developing or smaller countries. Some raised particular issues that concern them such as export restrictions and geographical indications; others said the talks should stick to the original mandate in agriculture.

Some delegations said that although the work should cover all three areas of agriculture (market access, domestic support, export subsidies and policies with similar effects), priority should be given to the export-subsidy group of issues since this was stated in the Bali declaration.

The chairperson said he would reflect on what members had said and consult Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, as chairperson of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which will meet on 7 April. He urged members to discuss these issues among themselves as well. He said he will also call meetings on cotton as set out in the Bali decision.

Speakers in the 2-hour meeting included: the G–20 (Brazil speaking), the Cotton Four (Benin speaking), G–10 (Switzerland speaking), the African Group (Lesotho speaking), the least developed countries (Uganda speaking), Mexico, the Cairns Group (Australia speaking), Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, New Zealand, Argentina, Paraguay, Rep. Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS, Dominica speaking), Uruguay, Norway, Thailand, Venezuela, the African Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP, Jamaica speaking), Pakistan, Cuba, Hong Kong China, Barbados, Philippines, Bolivia, US, China, Ecuador, EU, India, Qatar, Switzerland.



To be announced


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.


back to top

Chairperson’s statements


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

The chair’s statements:


Outline of statements by the Chair, Ambassador John Adank Informal meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Special Session
28 March 2014 back to top



Welcome delegations to this informal meeting.

I won’t make lengthy intro because you all have my report to the General Council which was circulated recently.

The description of the situation in that report is still valid: Since the last General Council meeting I have continued my consultations in different configurations.

Today’s meeting is part of that process, as well as a means of ensuring transparency and inclusiveness. Its aimed at providing a further opportunity for members to highlight what they see as the key challenges that will need to be addressed as well as the opportunities that may present to deliver progress on the post-Bali work programme and in the convening fax to assist members in preparing for this meeting I posed a number of questions, which are as follows:

  • What do members consider to be the desirable and doable aims for ongoing discussions and negotiations in relation to the three inter-related pillars of agriculture?
  • What contributions do members consider they, and other members, need to make to this end?
  • What new information do members wish to bring forward, or would encourage others to bring forward, to update earlier discussions about policy settings and developments that may be relevant to the negotiations?

My consultations since the General Council have not so far provided clear answers to these questions. Indeed in some cases I have been asked what are my answers to these questions.  I’ve refrained from volunteering any because I think the obligation remains on members to articulate views and concerns on the issues raised if we are to unlock any progress.

I think, nevertheless, it is fair to say that Members with whom I have spoken all recognise the need to get down to dealing seriously with the fundamental issues they represent.

I hope that your inputs at today’s meeting will affirm this recognition and help start us on the path to renewed substantive negotiation.

As I see it, and bearing in mind the timing agreed by Ministers at Bali, the time for a simple restatement of well-known positions is drawing to an end.

We need to be moving into the less comfortable but hopefully more productive zone of testing each other’s and our own-capacity to contribute to results in line with the principles set out by the DG at the TNC [Trade Negotiations Committee meeting].

This will inevitably require discussions in a range of formats to determine where consensus might be found.

This is also the aim that I will be pursuing in my continuing consultations, and it is in this spirit that I invite you to contribute today.



Can I thank delegations for the views outlined today — the discussion at least signals a beginning of re-engagement. The challenge remains to get into deeper detail about the range of concerns that need to be resolved if we are to identify viable options for taking things forward.

In terms of some of the questions that have come up, can I respond briefly as follows:

  • re the issue of the status of Rev 4, as I said in my report there are a range of nuances from members on this issue. And we will not resolve this one way or another here. The fact that I don’t anyone can deny is that our past discussions evolved to a certain point but without any overall convergence, as reflected in Rev 4 and the Chair’s accompanying explanations. Some members have emphasised just how important they consider the Rev 4 text. Others put emphasis on alternative approaches will need to be explored.  We need to know more about the nature of the issues involved here in order to determine whether we can resolve them.  So we all need to be willing to participate in an open-minded dialogue focused, as I noted in my report, on problem-solving, rather than simply cataloguing additional reasons for an absence of agreement.  The first step is to know, rather more clearly, what the problems are.
  • re the issue of information, I think we all realise that there have been a range of developments in recent years that affect the context for our discussions and that more information about these developments — whether they relate to tariff or domestic support policy or other elements — could assist more focused engagement.  Conversations will need to be informed up this updated context. In that regard, just to note here that as of today which is the deadline for the submission of information in response to the Secretariat export competition questionnaire, only seven responses have been submitted. Getting this information from members will be crucial if the Secretariat is to prepare in a timely way a background document for further discussions in June in the regular Committee. So could members look into this please.
  • Cotton was mentioned in some of the comments and just to note here that as provided for in the Bali Cotton Decision, the mandated bi-annual dedicated sessions will be undertaken on the basis of Secretariat background documents compiling factual information and data submitted by Members. I would therefore encourage all Members to submit timely notifications to the CoA [Committee on Agriculture], especially when some of their measures relate specifically to cotton. My intention would be to hold the first dedicated session in June, back to back with the next meeting of the Consultative Framework mechanism on Cotton. I intend to consult with the cotton Quad and other interested members shortly in that regard.
  • In terms of the forward process for work, I will be reflecting further and consulting with the Director General in the context of the TNC [Trade Negotiations Committee meeting] planned for 7 April. As I’ve highlighted a range of different configurations will be needed for our discussions.


Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

About negotiating texts:

• bracketed

• “Job document”

• modality, modalities

• schedules

• templates


• Amber box

• Blue box

• box

• de minimis

• distortion

• export competition

• Green box

• pro-rating

• sensitive products

• special products (SP)

• special safeguard mechanism (SSM)

• tariff line

• tariff quota

• the three pillars

> More jargon: glossary
> More explanations

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