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.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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The paper from the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters compiled the latest data notified to the committee by the top 10 agricultural trading nations (in the case of the EU, a group of nations), as part of the committee’s role in monitoring how members implement policies under their WTO obligations.

However, some members see the data as an input into the negotiations, which are held in separate sessions. Different countries drew different analytical conclusions from the data, reflecting their different perspectives on what the negotiations should achieve.

Some focused on the “trade distortion” (when policies cause prices and production to be higher or lower than levels that would usually exist in a competitive market) caused by large overall quantities of support, including increases in major developing countries. Others argued that those figures overlook the difference between the large amounts paid per farm in commercial agriculture, and the considerably smaller amounts paid per head to poor farmers. (More details below).


Questions, answers and Bali

The committee, which consists of all 160 WTO members, also undertook its more routine work of monitoring countries’ policies through questions and answers.

Members questioned more generally included: Brazil, on its domestic support; Canada, on its policies for cheese and other dairy products; China, on domestic support for cotton; Costa Rica, on complying with its support limit for rice (see this news story); India, on its policies for cotton and sugar and its rice and cereals exports; Pakistan, on its wheat export subsidies; Russia on its agricultural support and grain exports, Thailand, on its sugar and rice policies; Turkey, on its wheat flour sales; the US, on its export guarantees; and at the last minute, Indonesia and Angola on measures that would restrict some imports.

Other questions were about the notifications members have to submit annually on their market access, domestic support and export subsidy policies. Here, as usual, the largest number of questions was about domestic support, an area that is particularly complex. The countries most queried were India — 10 questions taking up about 5 pages of document G/AG/W/139 (pdf), following up from the last meeting in November — and the US —10 questions taking up about 2 pages.

(More details below; document G/AG/W/139 includes reference numbers for the questions and answers used in the Agriculture Information Management System (AG-IMS) database).

The committee also briefly continued its monitoring and other follow-up work on other decisions agreed at the WTO Bali Ministerial Conference, with a reminder by the chairperson on the recommended use of an additional column on quota fill rates in tariff quota notifications (under “tariff quota administration”), and information on preparations for the next discussion in June 2015 on export subsidies and other policies grouped under the heading “export competition”.


Some details


Domestic support data
Questions and answers

One of the key responsibilities of the “regular” Agriculture Committee, which consists of all 160 WTO members (and does not deal with the current agriculture negotiations), is to see how countries are complying with their commitments on subsidies and market access and to discuss issues that arise.

It monitors whether members are keeping the promises they have made in the WTO. Out of the XXXX sets of questions in this meeting — document G/AG/W/139 (pdf) — 18 arose from information available elsewhere that has not yet been notified, and 19 were about some of the 44 notifications on their programmes that members submitted since the last meeting in November (three on tariff rate quotas, 10 on domestic support and four on export subsidies).

Questions and answers from all meetings are compiled in the Agriculture Information Management System database. Code numbers in the document G/AG/W/139 in the form “AG-IMS ID XXXXX” can be used to identify the questions and answers (for questions in this meeting, use meeting number 76).

These are some of the questions and answers that aroused the most interest from members:

Costa Rica’s domestic support for rice

(AG-IMS ID 76052) Costa Rica said a new decree has been issued that will eliminate the price support scheme that has caused it to exceed its domestic support limit for rice for several years. The programme is being replaced with a new scheme, it said.

New Zealand, Canada, Pakistan and the US repeated their concern about the breach and their appreciation for Costa Rica being transparent in this issue. They said they would monitor how the new policy is implemented.

The breach of up to six times Costa Rica’s limit was first discussed in the committee in 2009. Costa Rica announced in June 2013 that the price support for rice that had caused it to exceed its limit by up to six times would be replaced in March 2014, but in January 2014 Costa Rica said it would have to delay this until March 2015, because the rice sector needs more time to adjust.

India’s export subsidies for sugar, Domestic support for rice and wheat

(AG-IMS ID 76016, 76050 and 760259) Once again, India said no payments had been made so far under a programme that is designed to encourage sugar producers to diversify from refined sugar into raw sugar. Paraguay and Australia asked why, if there had been no payments, the policy is needed. The EU asked whether India’s reply meant payments could be made in the future: India said it was only providing the facts.

Australia said it was very concerned because India is one of the world’s largest sugar exporters and the subsidies could have an impact on world markets. Also expressing concern were Thailand and Colombia, the latter referring again to members’ agreement at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference to reduce and eventually eliminate these types of subsidies.

(AG-IMS ID 76018–9, 76066–72, 76035) India also replied to further questions on its domestic support notification, which was first discussed in the last meeting, including about the impact of the programme, and the basis for using US dollars in the notification.

Australia, the EU, the US, New Zealand and Paraguay said they continue to be concerned about the possible impact on domestic and world markets when large amounts of produce are accumulated in stocks. The EU and Paraguay sought data to relate the numbers of resource-poor farmers and the percentage of land they cultivate, to increases in production.

Thailand’s credit for rice

(AG-IMS ID 76021 and 76058) Thailand replied to further questions from Australia and the US about its “paddy pledging” scheme, in which paddy (unmilled rice) is used as collateral for subsidized loans, saying the figures on the scheme are still being compiled and are also subject to legal proceedings in Thailand. They will be notified when they are available, Thailand said.

The delegation repeated that the scheme has now been scrapped. Expressing concern or interest in the issue were Pakistan, the Philippines and India. The Philippines said that even if the rice stocked under the scheme was sold at market prices, since it had been obtained at above market prices, this would have an impact on world markets because Thailand is a major exporter.

This issue has been discussed in the committee for several years.

Switzerland’s export subsidies

(AG-IMS ID 76002) The EU, New Zealand and Argentina asked for information or expressed concern about Switzerland’s export subsidies, the latter two referring again to members’ agreement at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference to reduce and eventually eliminate them. Switzerland said it had eliminated export subsidies on basic products, and reduced subsidies on processed products although its Parliament is considering a temporary increase for one year to help producers suffering after the central bank recently abolished the cap on the Swiss franc’s exchange rate and its subsequent rise in value.

Import restrictions: Indonesia and Angola

Two late questions reflected the concerns of Australia and the EU about import measures in Indonesia (for beef, AG-IMS ID 76075) and Angola (for a range of products, AG-IMS ID 76076), and the possibility that these measures would restrict trade in a way that would violate WTO obligations. Indonesia said its measures were a reaction to an anomaly in the domestic market, with details to be supplied later; Angola said it would also explain its policies later.

Want more?
  • Members’ compliance with notification obligations, latest version, G/AG/GEN/86/Rev.20 (pdf) — Over a third of domestic support notifications are overdue (736 or 38% of the total expected) and a similar figure for export subsidies (802 or 36%). Once again, China was asked when it would supply up-to-date notifications on its domestic support (the latest year covered so far is 2008). China said that it will do so for 2009-10 in the next two weeks and that further notifications will follow.

Chairperson: Ms Miriam Beatriz Chaves of Argentina

Next meetings

(Could be changed, with possible informal meetings before)

  • 4–5 June 2015
  • 24 September 2015
  • 19 November 2015

On the website

Agriculture Information Management System database

Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

• Amber box

• Blue box

• de minimis

• distortion

• Green box

• notification

• overall trade-distorting domestic support (OTDS)

• tariff quota

> More jargon: glossary

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