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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“Many delegations considered that a substantial outcome at MC11 was within reach for Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes, Domestic Support, Cotton and Export Restrictions. The same could not be said of the other topics,” Norwegian Ambassador Harald Neple told members on behalf of the regular agriculture talks chair, Kenyan Ambassador Stephen Karau.

View the chair’s report.

Many of the recently tabled submissions concerned farm domestic support limits. One proposal also covered cotton and the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes. Another covered transparency in export restrictions, and another paper focused on the proposed special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries.

In presenting their joint proposal on agriculture, co-sponsored by Colombia, Peru and Uruguay, the European Union and Brazil called it “an important step in the negotiating process towards outcomes in Buenos Aires”. The proposal, covering domestic support, public stockholding for food security purposes and cotton, provides a new architecture which would put all WTO members on the same basis and encourage reform efforts, the proponents said.

New Zealand, in introducing its submission co-sponsored by Australia, Canada and Paraguay, stressed that it was aimed at complementing the discussions. The paper advocates a fixed cap on trade-distorting domestic support — expressed as a single figure that would not change over time. It would “establish enduring and meaningful constraints on trade-distorting domestic support over time”, New Zealand said.

A joint submission by India and China stresses that the current structure of the WTO Agriculture Agreement contains a major asymmetry. India, in presenting the paper, said developed members must eliminate Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) (1) entitlements as a pre-requisite for consideration of other reforms in the domestic support negotiations.

Switzerland and Japan introduced their respective submissions. Both members belong to the G10 group of members which stresses the multi-functionality of the agriculture sector and the need for that to be taken into account in the agriculture negotiations.  Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the G10 group, said some proposed approaches could affect members of the group disproportionally.

Japan said that setting a limit on the basis of the percentage value of production would create disadvantages for members with relatively small agricultural production. On the other hand, having a numerical target would provide more predictability and be easier to monitor.

Members commended proponents’ efforts to put forward positive contributions, while many said they were still reviewing the submissions and could only offer preliminary comments at this stage.

Public stockholding

WTO members looked at two new proposals that address the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, at a dedicated discussion on the topic on 20 July.

Public stockholding is a policy tool used by governments to purchase, stockpile and distribute food when needed.  While stocking and distributing food is permitted under WTO rules, governments purchasing food at prices higher than market prices are considered to be subsidizing their farmers.

One of the proposals, submitted by the EU, Brazil and other co-sponsors, suggests some ideas on a permanent solution on public stockholding. The proposed solution covers both existing and new small-scale programmes, with least developed country (LDC) members exempted from the proposed disciplines. At the same time, the EU said that the proposed solution seeks to respond to concerns expressed by some members regarding the possibility for such programmes to disrupt international markets or affect the food security of other members.

Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the G33 group of developing countries, said that the group firmly believed that the best solution for this issue must satisfy all developing members facing food security challenges. The new G33 proposal is based on a submission the group tabled in 2015, which proposes the insertion of a new annex to the Agreement on Agriculture, where programmes for public stockholding for food security purposes would not be required to be accounted for in the AMS. The new element in the proposal is a requirement for countries that use such programmes to share more information.

Many members emphasised that WTO members have a clear and distinct mandate to find a permanent solution to this issue, and that it should not be linked with the broader agriculture negotiations on domestic support.

Some other members cautioned over the proposed exclusion of price support programmes from the AMS calculation. They said that public stockholding programmes could yield “unintended consequences” if governments unloaded the stocks on world markets and impact on prices for similar products in other countries. They stressed the need for stronger safeguards to address potential direct and indirect release of stocks in international markets.

WTO members reaffirmed the commitment in the Nairobi Ministerial decision “to engage constructively to negotiate and make all concerted efforts to agree and adopt a permanent solution” to the public stockholding issue by the 11th Ministerial Conference, which will take place in Buenos Aires in December 2017.

Cotton

The proposal by the EU, Brazil and other co-sponsors calls on members to agree to an overall limit on all the trade-distorting domestic support provided for cotton as a percentage of the cotton value of production, so as to fulfil the mandate to address cotton “ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically”, within the agriculture negotiations.

Benin informed members that “Cotton-4 countries” - Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali — would soon table a proposal on cotton.

Transparency in export restrictions

Singapore introduced its proposal on transparency of export restrictions, which it describes as a “side serving of salad”. A key element of the proposal, which is crafted as a draft Ministerial Decision, is the requirement that a notification should be submitted at least 30 days prior to the implementation of an export restriction measure, and in special situations, within 10 days of its implementation. The proposal also seeks to exempt food purchases for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme (WFP) from the imposition of such export-limiting measures.

Special safeguard mechanism

Members briefly discussed a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries, proposed by the G33 group. The SSM would allow developing countries to temporarily increase import tariffs in cases of import surges or price depression.

The G33 group submitted a new document listing questions on outstanding issues regarding such a mechanism.  The chair reported that “sustained divergent views” continue on the topic.

Find out more

Different types of domestic support
https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/agric_e/agboxes_e.htm

More background on agriculture negotiations
https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/agric_e/negoti_e.htm

Groups in agriculture negotiations
https://www.wto.org/ddagroups

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Notes

  1. Some 30 WTO members that had larger subsidies at the beginning of the post-Uruguay Round reform period have committed to reduce these subsidies. The reduction commitments are expressed in terms of a “Total Aggregate Measurement of Support” (Total AMS). Back to text

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