AGRICULTURE: FORMAL 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.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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The five working groups that reported back are:

  • Working group on
  • Working group on
  • Working group on
  • Working group on
  • Cotton technical Quad Plus meeting

"Constructive", "positive", "sincere", "open", "deep", "highly engaged"… Members didn't spare appreciative words in describing the discussions in the working groups, welcoming the new process and expressing a readiness to continue engaging in the working groups.

After the working groups reported back on the deliberations under each topic, discussions continued as members took the floor to provide further comments and answer the chair's questions that were circulated before the meeting.

With a sense of urgency, the chair shared his goal in his opening remarks: at some stage between July and September 2019, he hopes the committee will have some elements and related options to form the basis for an incremental package on which Members can start negotiating in the second half of the year, with a view to achieving an outcome in the agriculture negotiations at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2020.

The chair ended the meeting by thanking all co-coordinators for their hard work and leadership. Repeating his call for more technical discussions, he asked members to prepare for the review at the end of April, when members are due to agree on a timetable for  their work between July and September.

Thematic discussions on domestic support:

Co-coordinators, Mr. Craig DOUGLAS (Jamaica) and Mr. David REID (New Zealand), provided a readout on all the discussed elements related to support and touched a bit on green box support. They described the discussions in the two past meetings as both active and intense.

The chair invited members to continue discussing these issues, which are of great interest to members and generated substantial debate during the working group meetings, with the goal of seeking possible areas for consensus-building.  He asked members the following question:

  • Looking towards MC12, what work can be done to try to build consensus towards an outcome and how can different ideas such as the differentiation between effects of Amber Box support on the domestic market vs on traded/exported products help? 

Many members did not see the point of such differentiation, as they considered all such subsidies to have the potential to distort trade. However, some members insisted that their domestic support was primarily for sustaining the livelihood of small farmers or supporting certain domestically sensitive products which did not impact on global trade.

However, a few members expressed unease  with three growing narratives in the committee which, in their view, were not constructive to the discussions. They argued that beyond "" support should not be considered the only problem; domestic support provided by developing members does not have a less distortive effect than support provided by developed members; and low per capita support could also constitute trade distortion in global market due to the large aggregate amounts provided.

Several developing members reiterated their support for the joint submission from China and India which seeks to phase out what they called the most trade-distorting support, i.e. AMS beyond de minimis. Special and differential (S&D) treatment for developing members remained of high interest for many members.

Transparency through notifications done in a timely and accurate fashion was stressed by some members. Several members highlighted their intent to pursue more data and analytical engagement in the committee .

The chair admitted it was a candid but tough discussion and asked members to be cautious not to go into a “dialogue of the deaf”. He noted that members want to have an outcome on domestic support and that more technical conversations were needed to deepen the understanding. He agreed with several members’ call to be more creative in seeking solutions.

Thematic discussions on market access

Co-coordinators Mr. Richard EMERSON-Elliott (Australia) and Mr. Mohsin RAFIQ (Pakistan) reported on the deliberations at the first meeting of the working group on market access.

The meeting allowed members to specifically reflect on what issues in the market access pillar should constitute the focus of the working group on market access, the co-coordinators said.

The Chair additionally invited Members to reflect on the following question:

  • A number of Members support an incremental outcome in market access and simultaneously caution is expressed against any cherry-picking of issues. How should the market access discussions be organized with respect to both these positions? 

The proponents stated that they were not against an incremental outcome, provided no issue within the market access file was excluded from consideration. They also highlighted the importance of a robust technical engagement given the complexity of topics to be addressed. A number of members simultaneously echoed their sensitivity and cautioned against an early harvest or partial results in the market access pillar; they also sought parallel progress in the and services negotiations. Linkages were also invoked by a number of developing members who considered it politically difficult to commit in market access in the absence of progress on domestic support reforms.

The importance of S&D, non-trade concerns, and the extensive commitments made by acceded members also came up in the discussions. Some members also emphasized the need to address non-tariff barriers.

Acknowledging members' growing interest in the topic, the chair admitted there is a lot of catching-up required, especially  due to the "reduced activity" in the negotiations on market access over quite a long period of time. He asked members to advance the discussions with technical analysis on all relevant topics, bearing in mind the references made to linkages. He also urged members to make the best use of the working group process and consultations in other formats to make progress in the market access negotiations.

Thematic discussions on cotton

The "Friend of the Chair" on cotton, Mr Daniel COSTA FIGUEREIDO (Brazil), reported on the discussions in the past two Cotton Technical Quad Plus meetings.

The group is now actively collecting cotton-related data and exchanging ideas for an outcome on cotton. A first draft compilation prepared by the Secretariat was submitted to the Quad Plus major cotton producers who had been sent a questionnaire by the countries (Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Mali) in July last year. The compilation contains cotton- related data on production, prices, value of production and domestic support sourced from domestic support notifications, and complementary information provided in replies to the C4 questionnaire.

On the elements and options for an outcome on cotton, the co-coordinator reported a list of items of members' interest, notably various forms of trade-distorting support under Article 6 of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), green box and duty-free and quota-free (DFQF) market access for cotton-related products. He also noted that the development-related elements could also be considered for an outcome on cotton.

The Cotton 4 and other cotton producers supported the process moving forward. The chair said he is very encouraged by the progress made thus far on cotton and more thorough discussions are expected in the next meeting.

Dedicated session on public stockholding (PHS) for food security purposes

Mr. Alf VEDERHUS (Norway), as coordinator, made an oral report. According to him, the working group on PSH in its second meeting maintained a "good level of attendance and participation," with more than 30 interventions from members. Participants discussed how to deal with "new" programmes, as well as the transparency provisions stipulated in 2013 Bali Ministerial Decision on public stockholding for food security purposes.

The Chair invited Members to continue discussing and providing answers to the following question:

  • One of the mains concerns seems to be the apprehension that the support provided under the PSH programmes could distort trade.  In your view, what is the best way to ensure that trade distortions do not occur?

Proponents and non-proponents repeated their long-standing positions. Members disagreed on whether PHS programmes could be trade-distorting. Proponents reiterated the need to support their low-income farmers with PSH programmes and recalled the clear mandate from the Bali Decision that all developing Members should be covered by a permanent solution. 

In response to request for more information to better understand how the current programmes function, the G33 group of proponents said that relevant members of the G33 were going through the draft table of “basic information” prepared by the coordinator and the Secretariat. The group also considers that this exercise of information gathering should suffice.

The chair reminded members of the PSH mandate and called on all sides to put in efforts to meet the expectations of the ministerial decisions. 

Dedicated session on special safeguard mechanism

Co-coordinator Mr. Bruno HAESSIG (Switzerland) reported to the committee. To stimulate the discussions, the chair had asked members to answer the following question:

  • What is your view on the suggestion made by some Members to engage in technical discussions on SSG based on the experience of its implementation since 1995 so as to inform and assist the technical aspects of the SSM discussions?

The discussions continued to manifest the fundamental challenge of linkage between the proposed special safeguard mechanism (SSM) and market access reforms: the proponents made a case for an SSM to remedy import surge or price drops that might harm local producers, especially small farmers, whereas the non-proponents reiterated their view that they cannot conceive of an SSM in the absence of broader market access reforms.

On the specific question raised by the chair, the proponents expressed readiness to engage in technical discussions on the existing , provided it did not derail the mandated SSM discussions. Some other members were not convinced of the utility of SSG-based discussions to facilitate the SSM debate, as they believed that the SSG was agreed during the Uruguay Round under different circumstances. The context for an SSM for developing countries was very different and this needed to be taken into account.

The chair said that, although linkages are inevitable, it may be appropriate to invoke them only when members are able to assess the level of ambitions targeted in the individual areas of the negotiations. He encouraged member to continue reflecting on the issue and deepen technical and analytical exchanges in order to achieve an outcome.

Next

The next CoA SS meeting is scheduled for 30 April-1 May.

Find out more

Different types of domestic support

More background on agriculture negotiations

Groups in agriculture negotiations

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