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.

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> 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)

With the tight schedule that members have set for themselves in mind, chairperson John Adank was encouraged by a new paper and subsequent discussion that explored concrete situations rather than focusing on generalities, but he was less enthusiastic when the talks turned to market access.

My really strong advice to you all as we leave this meeting is please get more concrete with each other, because if we stay in this sea of generalities we’re probably not going to get that far

On the discussion on the new domestic support paper, he said: “This is really new territory for us to venture into, but it’s necessary that we start this exploration.”

He added: “It does remind us that we have to get very, very concrete about both what our individual situations are in terms of our policy settings, and what that actually means to what we can contribute to the discussion.”

The paper, submitted by a group of countries, explores whether or not key members would have to adjust their present domestic support if cuts to their allowed limits are applied according to the 2008 draft outline agreement (the “draft modalities”), which remains on the table. Only one of the six examined would have to adjust, the paper says: the US.

On market access, the other main topic on the agenda, the chairperson, who is New Zealand’s ambassador, said members repeated their general views and were too vague. (One delegation did suggest a new approach to cutting tariffs — members exchanging offers and requests instead of applying a formula.)

Overall, he concluded:  “My really strong advice to you all as we leave this meeting is please get more concrete with each other, because if we stay in this sea of generalities we’re probably not going to get that far.” He said he would consult agriculture negotiators in a variety of formats. (See the texts of his statements, or listen to audio.)

In a second agriculture negotiations meetings in the afternoon of the same day — a separate track on public stockholding for food security in developing countries — Ambassador Adank also urged members to respond more specifically to each other’s concerns about the proposal currently on the table.

Target deadlines

WTO members are targeting July 2015 for agreeing on a work programme for concluding the Doha Round talks. (Some members have even said they would like to conclude the round by the Ministerial Conference at the end of the year.) Director General Roberto Azevêdo is organizing frequent meetings of ambassadors on the round as a whole to drive the talks forward.

The public stockholding talks have a year-end deadline for producing a permanent deal to replace the interim agreement struck at the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference. This was set by the General Council’s 27 November 2014 decisions.


Some details


Domestic support

The paper on domestic support was a number-crunching exercise to see what six members would have to do if the cuts on domestic support envisaged in the December 2008 draft (document TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4, sometimes called “Rev.4” for short) are applied. Based on their latest notified support figures, five would not have to do anything, according to the paper: the EU, China, India, Brazil and Japan. Only the US would have to trim its support from its latest notified amounts, it concludes.


The paper was produced by Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Malaysia, Pakistan, Paraguay, Thailand, Uruguay and Viet Nam and was presented by Canada.

It applies the cuts in the 2008 draft to the six members’ present limits on categories of domestic support: Amber Box (the most trade-distorting support, known technically as AMS), Blue Box (similar but with constraints to reduce the distortion) and de minimis (a conceptually small amount of Amber Box support currently limited to 5% of production for developed countries and 10% for developing countries). It also looks at the resulting limit on “overall trade-distorting domestic support”, which is amber plus blue boxes plus de minimis, a proposed new overarching limit that would constrain members’ ability to shift support between different categories.

Those new limits are then compared to the actual support the six members provided according to the latest information they notified on the support they actually provided. According to these calculations, all of the countries studied except the US would be within the new limits. The US’s latest “de minimis” figures for specific products would exceed the new limit by US$4.38 billion. This would therefore have to be re-categorized as Amber Box, which would then raise US Amber Box support so that it overshoots the new limit by US$3.6 billion, according to these calculations.

Some of the paper’s sponsors said they hope the US will be able to make the adjustment, and added that they recognize that this will have a “price” to pay in return — some other concessions in the negotiations.

The US said that the figures show that the 2008 draft is unbalanced and argued that domestic support in developing countries distorts trade as much as in developed countries. It added that it is willing to “wade into” domestic support but only if that reflects current realities.

One member said additional flexibilities for the US are already included in the 2008 draft. Some argued that domestic support in developed countries is for commercial purposes whereas in developing countries it is for development.

One said some countries have reformed their agriculture over the past 20 years and will not have to adjust under a Doha Round deal, whereas others have gone in the “wrong direction”.

A number of countries said the structure of the cuts in the 2008 draft is needed because it would apply the steepest cuts to the highest ceilings on domestic support, and the new discipline on overall trade-distorting domestic support would constrain manipulation through “box-shifting”.

Speakers included: Canada, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Pakistan, Malaysia, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala, US, China, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, India, New Zealand, Rep.Korea, Australia, Norway, Mexico.



Market access

Members’ positions remained divided both on the two market access proposals on the table, and on how to deal with market access issues in general.


The two papers are from the G–33 group of developing countries and deal with “special products” (for which developing countries would make smaller tariff reductions than the norm, or none at all) and the special safeguard mechanism (allowing them to raise tariffs temporarily to deal with price falls or import surges).

The G–33 continued to argue that developing countries need the proposed protection for food and livelihood security and rural development.

Others repeated their concern that the proposals in this form undermine the agreed objective of substantial improvements in market access, and the transparency and predictability that the main draft formula produces. Some repeated their argument that these provisions should only be applied to a more limited number of products, that allowing tariffs to go above present ceilings would reduce market access opportunities, and that the special safeguard mechanism should only be available for products that have steep tariff cuts.

On market access in general, some countries argued that the formula in the 2008 draft meets the objectives of higher cuts on higher tariffs, transparency and predictability. But some added they are willing to consider alternatives. Some continued to call for a simpler approach in order make agreement easier to reach, but others complained that no specific proposals for simplifying the approach have been submitted.

One (Argentina) advocated using offers and requests by individual members instead of a tariff-reduction formula. It said this could be done in a way that would be transparent and predictable and without any secret deals.

A few countries reminded members of other issues that concern them in the agriculture negotiations such as geographical indications and export restrictions.

Speakers included:  Indonesia, Thailand, Paraguay, the small and vulnerable economies (Dominican Rep speaking), Colombia, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, Chile, the EU, Russia, the G–10 (Switzerland speaking), Cuba, New Zealand, Uruguay, the US, India, Costa Rica, Japan, Pakistan, Norway, Chinese Taipei, Mexico Benin, China, Argentina, Nigeria and Rep Korea.

The chairperson concluded that the only way to resolve the differences on the approach for tariff reduction is for members to be more concrete about what they propose.



Public stockholding for food security

The second meeting was the first “dedicated session” on public stockholding for food security in developing countries under the General Council’s 27 November 2014 decisions. The only proposal on the table is the G–33’s paper from July 2014 which reverts to the group’s 2012 version that would effectively move into the “Green Box” the support given when governments buy food at non-market prices for stockholding and therefore be allowed without limit.


The group repeated its view that this is necessary for food security in developing countries.

Others cautioned that disciplines would be needed to avoid “unintended consequences” such as the stocks’ release affecting export markets and hurting other countries’ food security, disciplines that are included in the present interim decision. Some (Pakistan, the US) argued that the discussion should also look at food security more broadly and the range of policy options used in practice, but others (India) countered that there is no mandate for these meetings to discuss broader food security issues.

A number also said they could not accept a proposal that would put price support into the Green Box because this would alter the structure of the Agriculture Agreement’s provisions on domestic support: Green Box support is defined as does not distort trade or does so minimally.

Some countries complained that the G–33 had resubmitted a proposal that had already been rejected before the Bali Ministerial Conference in 2013. Some others said it had never been rejected.

The chairperson said the Bali interim decision had been adopted because members could not agree on the 2012 proposal. He urged members to discuss their concerns with each other,

Countries supporting the G–33 proposal included: Indonesia (speaking for the group), Morocco, Turkey, India, China. Countries raising concerns about “unintended consequences”, distortion, and changing the Green Box, or advocating a broader discussion of food security included: Australia, Pakistan, the US, Brazil, the EU, Japan, Paraguay, Argentina and Canada. Some countries (Argentina, Brazil) also said the deadlock that held up the talks in 2014 must not be repeated.



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Chairperson’s statements


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

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The chair’s statements:

Negotiations meeting

 Audio: Chairperson Adank’s opening statement (8’08”)
 Audio: Chairperson Adank’s remarks on domestic support paper (1’34”)
 Audio: Chairperson Adank’s closing statement (4’08”)

Public stockholding meeting

 Audio: Chairperson Adank’s opening statement (5’11”)
 Audio: Chairperson Adank’s closing statement (5’54”)


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Negotiations meeting
Opening statement, remarks on domestic support paper and closing statement

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Opening statement

As noted in the convening fax, the purpose of the meeting is to advance our discussion of the agriculture elements of the work programme on the remaining DDA [Doha Development Agenda or Doha Round] issues due to be agreed by July this year.

During the last CoA SS [Committee on Agriculture Special Session, ie, agriculture negotiations] meeting in December, I made a short summary of the work done before we reached the stalemate in July last year. My intention is not to repeat the report, but continue from where we were left off at the time. In doing so, I am sure we will benefit from the experience of the consultations that the DG [director-general] has very recently held with a number of you about the political parameters of the negotiations that we will need to undertake in the period up to July. I hope that the spirit of engagement that has been shown in those consultations will continue also in this setting.

I encourage members not to simply outline what they want, but to listen carefully to what others are saying, and to think about how they can make what they want attractive to others

The way I intend to proceed today is to first give the floor to delegations who would like to introduce new submissions. Then, I will give delegations an opportunity to respond to the questions circulated in the convening fax, first, on domestic support and second, on market access. A number of delegations have given some preliminary responses to these questions in earlier meetings. I hope that in the time since then you have all had an opportunity by now to reflect carefully on them and that we can start the process that we very much need to undertake of getting into the substance of the issues and focusing on those issues that need deeper consideration.

I’d ask you to avoid general statements and repetition of positions for this new process that we’re starting up in 2015. The focus very much has to be on what is doable and politically viable in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. We all know that there are a spectrum of views out there on the draft modalities, but we need to move forward pragmatically on the understanding that, whatever the respective views on the of details the past discussions reflected in Rev.4 [document TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4, the draft from December 2008, and the latest on the table] the key concerns it reflects — the key subjects, the concepts — they have to be dealt with in some way. We will need to get back into a discussion of subjects that we haven’t had a discussion on, in reality, for several years.

So, take a deep breath and get ready for this because we can only achieve our mandate of getting the agricultural contribution as part of the post-Bali work programme by July if we’re prepared to all do that. And in saying all of that I’m not asking delegations to commit to any particular conclusions at an early stage. The process has to be one where delegations listen carefully to what each one is saying to each other and to reflect on what that means to how we take things forward.

Delegations will also recall that at our July meeting, the G–33introduced two submissions ([restricted documents] JOB/AG/28 & 29), on special products and SSM [special safeguard mechanism]. I propose that these submissions be considered in the context of our discussion on market access. The other G-33 submission from July on public stockholding (JOB/AG/27) will be addressed in the Dedicated Session this afternoon.

But before opening the floor, I would like to emphasize once more that today’s focus on the domestic support and market access pillars does not mean that they are more important than other issues. As I have previously reported, it is clear that all elements within the DDA agricultural framework are inter-related and there seems to be a general acceptance that they will need to be dealt with. I have commented on several occasions that in terms of potential landing zones, the product of the past negotiations on export competition was accepted as an important basis for our further work in this area, by ministers in Bali, and I think everyone recognizes that there was an explicit declaration on export competition in Bali in 2013.

The situation is not the same with the market access and domestic support pillars. I have noted that these are the two pillars where a range of significantly more contentious issues have been raised in our discussions, and therefore they require more in-depth discussion at this initial stage among members to essentially find out where we are across the board on those issues.

In that process, what I will be encouraging is that members not simply outline what they want on both of those things, but to listen carefully to what others are saying, but also to think about how they can make what they want attractive to others, because we have come to a situation where we either stay put and be content with a divergence that will go on for as long as we want it to go for, or we actually have to start to look at whether there are actually any opportunities for convergence on these issues, which we have not really discussed in depth for some time.  


Remarks on domestic support paper

As you can see, we’ve started the year deep into the detail of a lot of concepts. I can see from the expressions on some faces that people are still re-acquainting themselves with a lot of these technical things that they hadn’t really thought about for some time.

Just listening to Canada’s introduction, what I take out of it as chair, without offering any comment on it at all on the substance — because I think the paper’s simply one group’s contribution to illustrate certain things that they think the current situation suggests — I do think it reminds us that we have to get very, very concrete about both what our individual situations are in terms of our policy settings, and what that actually means to what we can contribute to the discussion on these things. This is really new territory, it seems to me, for us to venture into, but it’s necessary that we start this exploration.


Closing statement

I think the morning’s discussion has been very, very useful. I think in the early part of the discussion on domestic support we had some engagement, which I think is much needed, and which will really need to take further if we’re to get to the bottom of any convergence in this area.

I guess we saw some signs of engagement on market access, but from where I am I must say that a lot of the statements that we’ve heard today are people repeating in an extremely generalized way concepts which are very, very difficult to concretize in terms of actual proposals. So it’s actually quite difficult for people to understand at times what specifically someone may mean when they come out with a general statement of their position.

I say that, not to criticize delegations because I know that you all need to report to your capitals that you’ve stated your positions at the meeting — we all do. But it’s really just to remind everyone that just as we’ve seen on some of the areas where we have had some engagement, you’re going to have to get a lot more concrete on what you really want and what you’re prepared to contribute in, for example, this area of market access, what the issues are with the flexibilities.

At times, I think there is a sense that we have two different conversations going on in here. One is a conversation between those who that it’s really simply just a matter of working with Rev.4 and basically just amending it, line by line to come up with an agreed scenario here. And then it’s very clear that there are others who, possibly because of the lack of engagement on some of the specific issues that are coming up, are giving a sign that something more significant may need to be done to some of these concepts that others are talking about in great detail.

The only way through that is clearly by becoming much more concrete, on what you want and what you’re ready to contribute, and at the end of the day it’s all about how much people really want to converge because that will affect their ability to do those things.

So what I will do, is … someone asked me: “Are you going to have these open-ended meetings every week?” I’ve said I’ve got no set plans, for when we will have open-ended meetings. The DG as you know is having a Room W meeting tomorrow [a meeting with heads of delegations]. I will be reflecting on how we next consult on the two areas that we’ve dealt with in some detail today. Again, there was reference made to other areas not to neglect like export competition and I’m aware there may be additional contributions on that front as we continue.

I will continue to be available to delegations, and I will convene consultations in different configurations as I think assists the process. But my strong advice to you all as we leave this meeting is please get more concrete with each other, because if we stay in this sea of generalities we’re probably not going to get that far.”

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Public stockholding meeting
Opening statement and closing statement

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Opening statement

As announced in my fax of 19 January 2015 convening this first dedicated session on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, the aim of this meeting is to advance our discussion on a permanent solution to the public stockholding issue in line with the General Council decision of 27 November 2014.

As you will recall, the Bali Decision on public stockholding for food security purposes mandated members “to negotiate on an agreement for a permanent solution, for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes for adoption by the 11th Ministerial Conference”. Members also agreed to establish a work programme to pursue this issue with the aim of making recommendations for a permanent solution, based on Members’ existing and future submissions.

In addition, by the General Council decision on public stockholding of 27 November, the negotiation on a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes must be pursued on priority. Members accepted to engage constructively to negotiate and make all concentrated efforts to agree and adopt a permanent solution by 31 December 2015. Members also clarified that the permanent solution should be found through the Committee on Agriculture (Special Session), but in “dedicated sessions” that would be accelerated and separate from the rest of the Doha Round agriculture negotiations.

Therefore, in order to assist delegations in refreshing their understanding of the proposals and of the work that has been done so far, the Secretariat circulated a compilation of the proposals and related documents (TN/AG/W/8, 21 January 2015) that have been circulated to date in the context of the special session’s discussions since the submission of the original G-33 proposal in November 2012. This compilation was also posted on the members' website and is now available in all three official languages.

You will recall that in the first quarter of 2013 an intensive technical process was undertaken, based on replies received to the questionnaire on public stockholding for food security purposes and food aid programmes of 20 December 2012. These replies are available on the members’ website under “Committee on Agriculture (Special Session)”. Twenty-eight members replied to the questionnaire, and specific questions were addressed to 15 members. Six members — Pakistan, India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, and the Philippines — made a presentation of their public stockholding and/or food aid policies. The process highlighted the concerns the G–33 members sought to address through their proposal, but it also brought out the concerns of others about some of the characteristics of the existing programmes, and about the proposal itself. A full report on this process is contained in my opening remarks at the informal meeting of the special session on 27 March 2013, which is also part of the compilation. The consultations that followed built on the knowledge acquired from the technical process and, as you know, led to the adoption of the interim solution in Bali.

In my convening fax I also invited any delegation who would like to present any additional paper or proposal for this meeting to submit them to the Secretariat as soon as possible. To my knowledge, no new contribution has been submitted. However, this does not mean that the list of proposals and related documents is a closed one. It will be updated if and when new submissions come in.

Today is our first dedicated session on the public stockholding for food security purposes. What will happen in the next sessions, as well as in the remainder of this one, will depend on you. I would therefore like to invite you now to express your views about the way forward on this issue, including any plan to present new submissions.


Closing statement

For the members who had had problems with the proposal as it was put in the pre-Bali process, it would be useful to engage further with the G–33 on the reasons why, at that time at least, there were those difficulties

If there are no further comments, I think we may be getting to the end of this initial meeting. I do think that we can see more clearly what the nature of this exercise is, I hope.  It is to explore what are the possible options that members could agree in this whole area of public stockholding for food security for a permanent solution — something that presumably is additional to or different from what we currently have, but we cannot prejudge exactly the result at this stage.

We’ve had a submission from the G–33 which members have started to respond to, and to engage on, but I think there will be a need to get into more detail on that and other submissions.

One thing that I would say — and I think we need to remind ourselves of this — is that the G–33 proposal of course was put forward before Bali in a similar form to the one that was submitted in July [2014].

Now, in the context of the preparations for Bali, it wasn’t possible to agree on the proposal, and instead we came up with an interim solution along with commitment to explore a permanent solution. But for the members who had had problems with the proposal as it was put in the pre-Bali process, I think it would be useful to engage further with the G–33 on the reasons why, at that time at least, there were those difficulties. We’ve heard some comments already from some members about whether what is really being proposed here is market price support or Green Box, but I think that’s an area that we will need to explore further, along with any range of other issues that members want to bring to the table — because through that process we will be able to see what is actually going to be the most productive line of enquiry for us all to follow.

I can understand that sometimes sponsors of proposals get frustrated that they don’t get clear responses from other members. I would encourage other members to be very clear in their communications of the reasons why a particular proposal raises questions or concerns. That’s what we can do in our further discussions.

What I would propose is that I will consult further and think about the next opportunity for a further informal discussion in this area. I don’t think it would be desirable at this stage to commit to a particular format for that, although we will come back to the dedicated open-ended session for further discussions and for any reporting back on any developments in other groupings that may have taken place. I note that the G–33, in terms of the procedural aspects here, has suggested the establishment of a Friends of the Chair process. Informally, that is what happened in the lead up to Bali. We did have a range of informal meetings. But I think we need to keep some flexibility here. We need to reflect a little on how we can have the most productive discussions in the most productive formats. So I will do that.

I will also welcome delegations — based on this meeting — coming to talk to me more, about how they see the best way to take discussions forward. At this stage my initial conclusion is that we probably need to gather together some questions to provoke a bit of discussion amongst members, as was the process in the lead up to Bali, and I’ll reflect on that. But it would be useful for members to also give me their feedback and input, having heard the comments from around the room today.

With that, I will conclude this initial dedicated session. Thank you all for your participation. We’ve had a very useful first exchange of views, and obviously we’ve got some way to go to get to where we want to go. Thank you very much.

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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.

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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