AGRICULTURE: FORMAL 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.
The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.
Members agreed on a proposed timeline for organizing a review of the operation of the 2013 Bali Ministerial Decision on tariff rate quotas (TRQs), which aims to improve how the quota system is used. Tariff rate quotas allow import quantities inside a quota to be charged lower duty rates than those outside. The Bali decision clarifies the procedure for administering TRQs. Under the decision, if a quota is persistently under-filled — and information-sharing and consultations prove fruitless — the importing government would have to apply one of a prescribed set of methods for administering quotas aimed at removing impediments.
According to the timeline, members will be invited to identify issues for discussion at informal meetings of the Agriculture Committee open to all members, and subsequently submit written papers. To facilitate the discussions, the WTO Secretariat has prepared a background document detailing information on members' reported TRQ fill-rates. The objective of the review is to promote improvements in the utilization of TRQs and to enable members to make recommendations to the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference (normally in 2019).
Members had a fruitful initial discussion on the review of the Nairobi Decision on Export Competition. The review constitutes an opportunity to assess whether the disciplines and the way they are monitored through the annual dedicated discussion process could be improved "to ensure that no circumvention threatens export subsidy elimination commitments and to prevent non-commercial transactions from being used to circumvent such commitments".
Norway, Israel and Canada reported that they had submitted revised schedules, implementing the 2015 Decision by WTO members to eliminate farm export subsidies. Out of the 16 members with scheduled export subsidy commitments at the time of the Nairobi Decision, five have now submitted a revised schedule to give up their entitlements to farm export subsidies. The first two were Australia and the European Union who modified their schedules last year. Other members with scheduled export subsidy commitments also updated the Committee on the steps being taken domestically to implement the Decision.
Members also exchanged information on their farm policy practices at the committee meeting. The questions and answers can be viewed in the agriculture information management system (search the AG-IMS ID in the section "Search Q&A Submitted since 1995").
Canada's new milk ingredient class continued to attract members' strong interest. Australia, New Zealand and the United States queried Canada about the implementation of its new milk class, which they said would hinder the imports of milk products into Canada.
Canada explained that the new class is one part of a National Ingredient Strategy currently being negotiated between Canada’s dairy farmers and its dairy processors. Canada also pointed to the fact that it is a very small world producer and exporter of skimmed milk powder.
EU's stocks of skimmed milk powder
Also on skimmed milk powder, Australia and New Zealand questioned the European Union's plan to release stocks onto the market.
The European Commission has purchased skimmed milk powder from dairy farmers, resulting in the EU stocks reaching a total of 370,000 tonnes. The EU reassured members that the Commission will continue to fulfil its legal obligations as regards the disposal of the stocks "in compliance with the commitments resulting from international agreements".
India's tariff hikes on pulse imports
Canada, Russia, Australia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine voiced concerns about India's recent increase in import tariffs, which amounted to 30% to 50% for products such as chickpeas or lentils, and questioned how that policy can help India achieve food security objectives.
India responded that the recent increase in tariffs is based on demand and supply. The objective is to balance the interest of consumers and suppliers. India said that the increase in applied tariffs is within the country's bound tariff rates.
Growth in world farm trade
The committee undertook its annual review of growth in world agricultural trade to assess if export subsidies may contribute to trade growth. The WTO Secretariat prepared a background note on WTO members' share in annual world trade growth.
Many members noted that the document confirms that developing countries are playing an increasingly important role as key exporters of farm products.
Net food importers
The committee carried out its annual monitoring of the 1994 ministerial decision to examine how net-food-importing developing countries and least developed countries might suffer from Uruguay Round agricultural trade reforms in terms of their access to food. Pakistan called for an effective follow-up to the decision.
A Secretariat background note (G/AG/W/42/Rev.19) summarizes the recent developments.
The next meeting of the Committee on Agriculture is tentatively scheduled for 11-12 June 2018.
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