WTO: 2015 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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> News: agriculture talks

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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)

"There have been signs that a number of delegations are trying to do this, and I encourage them — and everyone else — to continue," he said.

Ambassador Adank warned that members were "a long way" from achieving an agreement by July on the agriculture chapter of a work programme for concluding the Doha Round talks.

"I have to be frank with you: my assessment today is a sombre one," Ambassador Adank said. "We are a long way from where we should be given the July deadline.  In key areas we are, as of yet, far from convergence on certain threshold issues."

"This in turn inhibits progress on other issues," he continued. "The intensive process in which we have been engaged has still not seen delegations move from entrenched positions or find acceptable ways around them. Doing so is the urgent challenge that is still ahead of us."

The threshold issues cited by the chairperson include, under the domestic support heading, possible spending caps on overall trade-distorting support (OTDS) and the coverage and extent of any reductions in existing limits on de minimis support; and under the market access heading, the overall approach to be taken on tariff reductions. The question of special safeguards also remains a difficult issue to resolve, the chairperson added.

WTO members have set July 2015 as the target for agreeing on a work programme for concluding the Doha Round talks. Separately, members have agreed to try and seek a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by the end of December 2015.

In conjunction with the efforts of the various Doha Round negotiating chairs, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has also organised meetings of member ambassadors on the Round as a whole to drive the talks forward.

 

Audio

 

Statement by the Chair, Ambassador John Adank

Since the previous informal meeting of the Special Session on 20 March I have, as forecast, intensified my consultations on key aspects of the negotiations in agriculture. These consultations have followed the schedule I circulated to you all on 30 March, with some necessary timing adjustments. I have now completed a cycle of consultations in various formats on key issues in all three pillars — Domestic Support, Market Access and Export Competition — as well as Cotton and Other Issues. Before I report in more detail, I would like to make a few general comments.

First I want to thank delegations for their active involvement in this process. There has been a high level of participation by Permanent Representatives, which I hope mirrors the commitment of your capitals. Some delegations have also made an effort to think creatively and reach out to others with ideas for possible compromises, and I encourage them to continue with these valuable initiatives. And I would like to thank those delegations who have put forward proposals or submissions, particularly in the instances were these were motivated by a commitment to secure consensus. In addition the Secretariat has contributed a number of factual background notes during the consultations. These either have been or will be circulated.

That said, I have to be frank with you: my assessment today is a sombre one. We are a long way from where we should be given the July deadline. In key areas we are, as yet, far from convergence on certain threshold issues. This in turn inhibits progress on other issues. The intensive process in which we have been engaged has still not seen delegations move from entrenched positions or find acceptable ways around them. Doing so is the urgent challenge that is still ahead of us. This is the background against which I will now report on my consultations in each area.

In Domestic Support it has become clear in the consultations that the nature and extent of disciplines on the OTDS — Overall Trade-Distorting Support — is likely to be a key determinant of the possible outcomes across this pillar as a whole. This has in fact become one of the threshold issues that I just mentioned. The core of the issue is whether numerical OTDS limits should apply to all Members, with appropriate Special and Differential treatment, or whether, as in Rev. 4, there should be an exemption for Recently-Acceded Members or RAMs. This question arouses strongly divergent views. Efforts have been made to try to find a way to reconcile the opposing positions, for example by encouraging parties to look for, or offer up, compensatory adjustments elsewhere, but so far no convergence is in sight.  There is a strong view on the part of a large number of delegations that efforts to resolve these issues must continue given the consequences if that proves impossible.

Another key issue is the treatment of de minimis support. Here the question is the coverage and extent of any reductions in existing limits. This is seen as a critical issue by many, considering increasing current, as well as potential, use of de minimis support.  The point was also made, though, that de minimis subsidies in developing countries serve a different purpose from those used by developed countries. Developing Members without AMS or with relatively low AMS consider de minimis an essential tool for them in the absence of other possibilities, while others, mostly exporters, would like to see the de minimis entitlements reduced and capped by the OTDS, especially as they grow with the value of production. Other developed participants have stated that it would be hard to envisage reducing their de minimis in the absence of progress elsewhere in agriculture and in NAMA. While here again there have been efforts to find ways forward, such as a suggestion to focus on non-product-specific de minimis, there is no convergence on the basic question.

Given these unresolved issues, discussions on other areas have not yet gone as deep as they need to go. The issue of product-specific limits is one such case.  These limits were seen as important by many, for some more important than the AMS, but there is little clarity so far  on what limits could be agreed and how they would be applied.

The same is true of the AMS, which was also considered important by many. Some felt it should still be the main focus of reduction, while others saw it as relatively less important than the OTDS or product-specific limits. Several members stressed the importance of a tiered formula for AMS cuts. Some others indicated the possibility of accepting this but not with the level of cuts envisaged in Rev 4. There appeared to be a widely-shared readiness to discuss what was doable in this connection and possibly to recalibrate as necessary, although here again this issue appears to bound up with some of the broader threshold issues — another reason why seeking progress on those issues is so crucial.  

Discussion of the Blue Box was also rather limited, though there was a clear divergence between those delegations who saw it as useful for the reform process to maintain it and those who argued for eliminating it, leaving AMS as the sole future base for what otherwise would have been Blue Box payments.  Clearly this is something that the main current users of Blue Box and delegations that would like to see its elimination need to discuss in more detail.

The situation in Market Access is quite similar to Domestic Support. Here too there is at least one major threshold issue that remains unresolved and that is impeding progress in other areas. This is the overall approach to be taken to tariff reductions. Broadly speaking there are two main positions: those delegations who prefer a tiered formula approach as in Rev 4 and those who reject this approach, of whom many favour an alternative based on average cuts. Some who do not favour Rev.4 have yet to be very clear about their preferred approach and we need this clarification urgently. If you fall into this category, please do not keep me guessing for too much longer.  Of course, there are then a number of issues that arise depending on the approach taken and also some that arise whatever the approach.

The inputs from Paraguay and Argentina in particular address the question of the overall modalities for tariff reduction. The Paraguay non-paper describes a hybrid approach for agriculture market access, combining average cuts and additional elements, including a request/offer stage. Eight additional elements are seen as needing to be addressed in order to deliver a meaningful outcome: average tariff reductions, minimum tariff reductions by line, tariff peaks, TRQs, escalation, tariff simplification, tropical products and implementation periods. The contribution from Argentina focuses on a request/offer process as the main tariff reduction modality.

Reactions to these inputs has been mixed. Some Members considered that an average cut approach could be interesting, each expressing specific preferences on what additional elements would be needed for a balanced outcome. However, a range of concerns was also registered, including safeguards, the treatment of S&D and RAMs, and consistency with the 2004 framework and the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration. Few saw a stand-alone request/offer process as realistic. However many were supportive of the idea of request-offer as a supplement to other tariff reduction modalities. Some had lingering doubts about its complexity, the time it would consume and whether it would disadvantage smaller economies.

The question of safeguards continues to be a difficult one. The G33 has made two submissions concerning the proposed SSM, and in my consultations they reiterated the importance they attach to it. The discussion was handicapped by differing views on whether any outcome on safeguards would need to be calibrated against the level of ambition in the market access pillar, or whether it should be approached as a stand-alone issue. There nonetheless were some indications of willingness to seek compromise. A few Members suggested that existing safeguard provisions in the AoA could be a good basis for discussions on an SSM. Others underlined the importance of eliminating the SSG for developed countries, as envisaged in Rev 4. Again there is a clear need for members on all sides to think about what is realistic in this area in current circumstances.

The first consultation on Export Competition took place two days ago. There is a general consensus that this pillar remains a key priority of our negotiations, as reflected in the Bali Ministerial Declaration, and that an outcome on this pillar should be envisaged in parallel with the other areas in the negotiations. However, if many members support an immediate commitment within the July work programme to deliver on this pillar by the 10th Ministerial Conference as a first building block in constructing a post — Bali work programme, some other Members flagged their opposition to an early harvest on export competition only.

On substance, Members agree on the level of ambition to be reached in the final outcome, i.e. the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies and disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect, which has been regularly reaffirmed during the last ten years. Many Members consider that the rev.4 draft modalities effectively constitute an appropriate outcome in this regard but some have expressed an interest in adjusting some sections of this text — but it remains unclear in a number of cases exactly what would be suggested here. Several participants insisted on the importance to preserve the special and differential treatment provisions, in particular for LDCs and NFIDCs, and Cuba has also reintroduced its proposal from 2010 in relation to export credits.  More detailed discussions will be required on these issues.

As regards the phasing — out timetable for all forms of export subsidies, most members favour a quick, if not immediate, implementation but a couple of participants asked for some time to adapt domestically. Different views were also expressed as regards the phasing — out timetable for export subsidies granted by developing countries under article 9.4 of the Agreement on Agriculture.

There was also an opportunity for members to discuss any other issues which are not already taken up under the architecture of the three pillars. Two specific themes were raised under 'other issues': export restrictions and prohibitions, and GIs.

 On export restrictions, importing Members and some others linked the issue to food security objectives and argued in favor of additional disciplines. Others argued that the "import" side of agricultural trade was still subject to heavy distortions and an outcome was required on such issues prior to taking up the "export" side and that in any case the issue was already under consideration in the regular Agriculture Committee.

A couple of Members saw a link between the negotiations on agriculture and the issue of Geographical Indications. This view was strongly opposed by others. There appeared to be agreement that, in any event, the appropriate forum to discuss GIs was in the TRIPS context.

I held a consultation on Cotton yesterday evening. Cotton is an important cross-cutting issue which Ministers have regularly committed to address ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically. The meeting saw some useful exchanges and discussions, including on data. One Member noted that the situation has dramatically changed in the world cotton market and insisted on the need to adopt a new approach in the negotiations to ensure that all Members, both developed and developing, effectively contribute to the final outcome. Some other Members noted their support for the Rev.4 draft modalities as reflected in the Bali Cotton Decision and reiterated the need to clearly differentiate between developed and developing Members. Following a suggestion by the C4 which was widely supported, I intend to pursue actively the discussions on cotton in the coming months, in particular at a technical level, with a view to consider possible ways forward in a focused manner. 

Finally, although, as we all know, the issue of Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes is under a separate, dedicated track, I think that in the interest of transparency I should take this opportunity to report on the latest consultation I held on that issue too.

Despite more active engagement among delegations, we have yet to move into focused work on solutions. The proponents have primarily referred to their original proposal of November 2012 and clarified that they were seeking policy space through amended rules, although I saw some opening from them to refer to other potential ideas that they circulated prior to Bali (contained in JOB/AG/25). The non-proponents have identified two broad concerns relating respectively to the architecture of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) through any potential transfer of market price support to the Green Box, and unintended market consequences of such public stockholding programmes for other Members. I also saw some hints in the discussions that the current interim solution adopted at Bali may also assist the search of a permanent solution, especially by offering guidance on the issue of safeguards.

I repeat my advice firstly to keep in mind the collective mandate, that is to find a permanent solution, and secondly to move beyond the assertion of well-stated positions. It's high time that negotiating energies are aimed at identifying concrete ideas and solutions so as to meet the timing that we all set for ourselves to find a permanent solution. I will of course pursue these consultations and convene another Dedicated Session at an appropriate time.

That concludes my report on my consultations. As I said earlier, it is a sombre one overall and I believe that reflects our reality. There is an urgent need to move from repeating positions to working for solutions. There have been signs that a number of delegations are trying to do this, and I encourage them-and everyone else- to continue. However there is no escaping the fact that any possible progress towards convergence is being seriously impeded by the standoff among some major players over the threshold issues I have mentioned. They need to find ways to bridge the gaps between them and everyone needs to help as much as they can to enable this. I will of course go on working intensively with you all, but I do not intend to repeat at this stage the cycle of consultations just concluded. Instead I will focus over the next few weeks on the key problem areas and the delegations most closely connected with them, while not losing sight of the bigger picture or the wider membership. I intend to convene another open-ended meeting in the second half of May. As always, I remain available for any delegation wishing to meet with me.

 

Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

 
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)

• special safeguard mechanism (SSM)

• tariff line

• tariff quota

• the three pillars

> More jargon: glossary
> More explanations

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