AGRICULTURE NEGOTIATIONS: INFORMAL MEETING
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.
The agriculture talks chair, Kenyan Ambassador Stephen Karau, told members as they enter the closing stretch of negotiations: “My objective is to engage today with you in a new phase of intensive, more focused and specific discussions building upon the numerous submissions circulated and ideas expressed before the summer recess.”
To assist members in the discussions, Ambassador Karau issued a document summarizing the state of play in the talks. The topics Ambassador Karau identified include: 1) public stockholding for food security purposes 2) domestic support, 3) cotton, 4) market access, 5) a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries, 6) export prohibitions or restrictions and 7) other topics including export competition and sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
Public stockholding for food security purposes
WTO members exchanged views on two proposals to address the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes.
These are: 1) a Proposal on Domestic Support, Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes and Cotton by Brazil, the European Union, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay, and 2) a Proposed Permanent Solution on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes by the G33 group of developing members.
"Now, eight weeks after the July meeting and twelve calendar weeks until the Ministerial in Buenos Aires, it is imperative that progress be made on this priority issue," said Ambassador Karau.
Public stockholding is a policy tool used by governments to purchase, stockpile and distribute food when needed. While stocking and distributing food is entirely permitted under WTO rules, governments purchasing food at prices higher than market prices are considered to be subsidizing their farmers.
At the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, members agreed on an Interim Solution, whereby they agreed to refrain from initiating legal disputes on such programmes under the Agreement on Agriculture, with conditions on avoiding distorting trade or impacting other countries’ food security, and to provide information to show they are meeting those conditions.
The 2015 Nairobi ministerial decision reaffirmed an earlier commitment “to engage constructively to negotiate and make all concerted efforts to agree and adopt a permanent solution” to the public stockholding issue by the December 2017 Ministerial Conference.
Ambassador Karau reconfirmed that a vast majority of delegations consider an outcome on curbing agricultural domestic support as a priority for MC11. “I did not see any major difference when it comes to the level of ambition,” he told members. “Where I did see significant gaps, however, is when we should realize this ambition and how to go about it.”
The discussion on domestic support focuses on a few proposals members tabled before the summer break.
The EU and Brazil's joint proposal aims at “striking a well calibrated balance”. The proponents said the proposal does not seek radical changes to members' current policies “while ensuring that all major trading members contribute”.
Meanwhile, China and India's joint submission calls for the elimination of Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS)(1) entitlements for developed members, in order to “help reduce some of the inequities built in the WTO rules”.
The submissions by the G10 coalition of members and by Japan stress the need to take into account the special conditions of the agriculture sector in these countries. Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the G10 group, said some proposed approaches could affect members of the group disproportionally.
Members expressed their interest to find common ground among the different proposed approaches. Several members signalled their intention to table new proposals on domestic support.
The chair noted in his state of play document that most members recognise that a meaningful and specific outcome on cotton domestic support is a priority issue.
Mali, speaking on behalf of the four West African cotton-producing countries — the “Cotton Four” (C-4) (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) — recalled the mandate to address trade distortions in the sector “ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically” and informed members that the C-4 is finalizing a proposed ministerial decision on cotton, which will be submitted shortly.
Many delegations took the floor to express their support for a substantial and meaningful outcome aimed at addressing trade distorting support in the cotton market. The chair said that he would reconvene a dedicated session on cotton once the C-4 submits its proposal.
Members briefly discussed market access around two proposals – one by Paraguay and Peru suggesting an incremental approach targeting specific issues, and the other by Russia and Tajikistan seeking to eliminate the special agriculture safeguard (SSG) that currently allows some members to temporarily increase import tariffs for specific agriculture products in cases of import surges or price drops.
In conclusion, the chair said that “we all heard each other again: a substantial outcome on market access is not feasible for MC11,” while noting that a number of members have expressed interest in a post-MC11 work programme.
Special safeguard mechanism
Members discussed a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries in a dedicated setting. The SSM would allow developing countries to temporarily increase import tariffs in cases of import surges or price falls. The G33 group submitted a new proposal on 14 September in the form of a legal text to establish the SSM.
On behalf of the G33 group, Indonesia said that while the WTO ministerial mandate is for establishing both a volume-based SSM and price-based SSM, the G33 is open to pursuing an outcome on one of these at MC11. The group would support such a decision as long as it contains — at the minimum — a concrete and operational SSM for use by developing country members that effectively addresses either import surges or price falls from day one of the decision.
Transparency in export restrictions
“The key message on export restrictions is: doable,” Ambassador Karau told members. Recent discussions on the subject have been facilitated by three successive submissions by Singapore.
However, some members sought clarification on the proposal. Many said improved transparency is critical to ensure food security, while some cautioned against making these requirements too burdensome for developing country members. Some members also expressed interest in continuing the discussion on the topic beyond what was suggested by Singapore.
“A couple of members noted that export competition was still an unfinished business, and that this fact should be recognized at MC11, but none of them classified this topic as a priority for MC11,” the chair noted in his state of play document.
On sanitary and phytosanitary measures, Brazil and Argentina circulated a discussion paper on 30 May 2017. The chair noted that several members expressed interest in the question, but some considered that the most appropriate forum to discuss the issues raised would be the SPS Committee.
The chair informed members that he would convene small meetings in the weeks to come and have bilateral conversations with delegations. He also encouraged members to speak with each other, and try to capture convergence, identify differences and look at ways to bridge gaps.
Ambassador Karau ended the meeting by quoting Winston Churchill: “Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.” We need to work hard and we should all contribute if we want to achieve something at MC11,” he said.
About negotiating texts:
- Amber box
- Blue box
- de minimis
- export competition
- Green box
- sensitive products
- special products (SP)
- special safeguard mechanism (SSM)
- tariff line
- tariff quota
- the three pillars
> More jargon: glossary
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