Delegations discussed submissions which would place new limits on members' ability to provide trade-distorting subsidies for agriculture. Members also welcomed ideas to address market access barriers for agriculture trade and to enhance transparency in the use of export restrictions. In addition,members held dedicated sessions to address the issues of public stockholding for food security purposes and the special safeguard mechanism.

The chair of the agricultural negotiations, Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand, told members in his concluding remarks: “I have been encouraged by the engagement we have had during this meeting and therefore with the state of our negotiations.”


Domestic support

Ambassador Vitalis said the “significant number of questions and submissions members have circulated over the past six months underlines the commitment of all members to engage with one another on domestic support and more particularly on what may be do-able for the meeting in Buenos Aires.” He recalled that a group of trade ministers at an earlier meeting in Oslo on 21-22 October agreed that further work in the lead-up to the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference would include elements of domestic support in agriculture.

Members considered three submissions that propose ways to address domestic support in agriculture in general and the cotton sector in particular.

Brazil introduced a proposal jointly submitted by Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay which draws on a previous submission by the group. The proposal puts forward four different options to limit different kinds of domestic support, and stresses that cotton should be addressed with more ambitious commitments and shorter implementation periods.

Another submission by Argentina, Australia, Colombia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Viet Nam presented statistical analysis to identify the domestic support policies that cause the largest distortions to global trade.

A third submission, by the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, calls for limits in trade-distorting domestic support as a deliverable for the Buenos Aires ministerial while keeping special and differential treatment for developing country members.

Members generally welcomed these submissions, and some expressed their preferences for certain options over others.


Market access

The chair told members that he detected “an intensification and expansion of interest” in the negotiations on agricultural market access.

 “Clearly there has been a shifting of gear in this negotiation,” Ambassador Vitalis said, noting that although this issue is not as high a priority as domestic support, market access is now a much livelier part of the agriculture negotiations.

The discussion on market access was based on three submissions by WTO members.

Paraguay, together with some other countries, introduced two submissions. The first addresses tariff overhang, or what is commonly known as “water”, i.e. the difference between bound and applied tariff rates. The second calls for an end to the special agricultural safeguard.

Uruguay, together with some other countries, presented a paper highlighting major impediments to market access, including high tariffs, tariff escalation (higher tariffs on processed products than on raw materials, resulting in greater effective protection), tariff peaks (relatively high tariffs, usually on “sensitive” products, amid generally low tariff levels), high levels of disparities in tariff levels among members, limitations to tariff rate quotas (whereby quantities inside a quota are charged lower import duty rates than those outside) and non-tariff measures.

Costa Rica introduced a technical note summarizing trade in tropical products over the past 15 years.

The discussion on the special agriculture safeguard (SSG) was based on a WTO Secretariat note (TN/AG/S/29) which shows that among the members entitled to use the SSG to increase import tariffs at times of price decline or import surge, only six members used the tool in the past five years, and the use of the SSG has generally been declining.

The proponents argued that the declining trend suggests that the SSG could come to an end by the 11th ministerial next year while a few other members — including the G10 coalition — indicated that the SSG is enshrined in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture and should remain until the agriculture reform process is completed. Some other participants considered that an outcome on market access should be comprehensive rather than “cherry picking” specific issues, and that the chances of success of such a comprehensive market access outcome by the 11th Ministerial Conference remained low.

Members also welcomed the other submissions put forward although some questioned certain calculation methods and said that they needed more time to consider the ideas on the table.


Other issues

Singapore reminded members of a proposal it put forward in July on improving transparency in the application of export restrictions. Members welcomed the proposal, with several net food-importing countries stressing that export restrictions affect their food security. Some members also signaled interest in enhancing disciplines on export restrictions.

Brazil informed members that it is working with some other members on a proposal regarding sanitary and phytosanitary measures and will present it shortly.


Information gap

The chair once again stressed the need to have up-to-date notifications, particularly on domestic support. He reminded members that in an organization of 164 members, only 27 have submitted data covering the period to the year 2015, and only two of these are developed members. The lack of notifications clearly impedes negotiations, the chair stressed.

“Put simply, the challenge we face in the negotiations is that we risk negotiating either in the dark or at best in the dusk,” said Ambassador Vitalis. His call for improved transparency was also echoed by many members.


Public stockholding programmes for food security purposes

The chair reported that there had been no change to positions related to the negotiations on public stockholding for food security purposes. Although members clearly agree on the mandate of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference and the deadline of 2017 for finding a permanent solution, they disagree on how to proceed, Ambassador Vitalis told members.

The G33 group of developing countries insisted that negotiations should be based on the group's proposal in 2014 to put the support provided under such programmes in the Green Box that has no spending limits. Some countries also argued that such programmes should be available for all developing countries.

Many other members cautioned about the unintended consequences that such programmes could have on international markets and on the food security of other countries. They also raised concerns about the impact that the proposal on the table would have on the architecture of the Agreement on Agriculture and that such support programmes could go against the direction of agricultural reforms to curb subsidies. Many of these members believe that an interim solution agreed in 2013 should be the key reference point on the issue.

Some members encouraged countries that currently have public stockholding programmes to share more information, including how these programmes and other mechanisms may help ensure food security and alleviate poverty. 


Special safeguard mechanism for developing countries

Members discussed the proposed special safeguard mechanism (SSM) that would allow developing countries to temporarily increase tariffs on agriculture products in the cases of import surges or price declines. This follows the Nairobi decision to continue negotiations on such a mechanism in a dedicated setting.

The G33 group argued that an SSM would respond to the objectives of developing countries on food security and rural development. Some members among the SSM proponents sought to justify the need for such a mechanism to counter the prevailing use of trade-distorting agricultural subsidies. They also believe that the current SSG provisions are too burdensome to apply and asked for a more accessible mechanism for developing countries. On the other hand, major agriculture exporting countries — both developed and developing — remained concerned about potential negative effects that an SSM would have on trade between developing countries and argued that such a mechanism is only plausible in the context of concrete market opening opportunities. Some exporting countries also considered it unjustified to be subject to an SSM when they were not responsible for the use of distorting subsidies.

As with the other parts of the negotiation, the chair noted the persisting gaps in members’ positions and encouraged members to talk with each other — bilaterally and in groups to bridge the gaps.


Link to document here to view the text of the chair’s remarks.

For more background on the negotiations, please consult www.wto.org/agnegs

More on WTO negotiation groups www.wto.org/ddagroups

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