In addition, the Committee undertook two annual exercises: the follow-up to the Marrakech Ministerial Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries (the NFIDC Decision) and the annual consultation on members' participation in the growth of world trade in agricultural products within the framework of the commitments on export subsidies under the Agreement on Agriculture.
The annual monitoring exercise on the NFIDC Decision and discussions on measures taken in response to COVID-19 also benefitted from the participation of international organizations that are observers to the Committee.
The Committee continued to examine members' agriculture support policies, including those related directly or indirectly to exports.
Australia's support measures, including the International Freight Assistance Mechanism, were subject to questions by India. Indian export subsidies for skimmed milk powder and Canadian dairy policies were also subject to scrutiny. Several questions were posed to the United States in relation to the recently introduced support packages in the form of the US Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and the Market Facilitation Program and whether the US would remain within its WTO support limit.
Japan continued to focus on members' export restrictions on food products. Australia questioned China's cotton policies and sought an assurance about non-discrimination towards Australian cotton suppliers in the Chinese market. Russia's certification of exported products as well as some of its export-limiting measures were also examined during the meeting.
Australia and India posed questions to the European Union about its agricultural support and other measures announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The European Union and the United Kingdom responded to specific concerns by several members related to their bilateral trade potentially crowding out the most-favoured nation tariff quotas. Border measures taken by Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, alleged discrimination in Cote d'Ivoire's tax on alcohol as well as certain issues raised previously were also debated at the meeting.
Breach of domestic support commitments by China, Israel and Turkey were discussed. The members concerned provided updates on the current status as well as on efforts to return to compliance.
The specific issues raised at the meeting and members' responses may be viewed in the Agriculture Information Management System (AG-IMS).
Review of COVID-19 related farm policies
The Committee continued to review the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture. The European Union, Norway and Switzerland provided new reports or updates on their COVID-19 measures.
The WTO Secretariat produced a compilation of members' ad hoc reports on COVID-19 related agricultural measures (G/AG/W/209). A similar compilation was circulated by the Ottawa Group — a group of 13 WTO members that supports reforms to the multilateral trading system — on measures undertaken by its members (G/AG/GEN/177).
The World Food Programme (WFP), an observer to the Committee, urged members to support Singapore's joint proposal (TN/AG/46/Rev.2) calling for the exemption of the WFP's purchases of foodstuffs for non-commercial humanitarian purposes from the application of export prohibitions or restrictions.
Follow-up to ministerial decisions
The monitoring of the Bali Tariff Rate Quota Decision was discussed. Members highlighted the need for a robust follow-up to the recommendations approved by the General Council in 2019 following a review of the implementation of the decision. A solution to the outstanding issue of the scope of the underfill mechanism was also emphasized.
Tariff rate quotas (TRQs) allow import quantities inside a quota to be charged lower duties than those outside. The mechanism was agreed as a means of allowing exporters some access to other countries’ markets when the normal tariffs on imports are high.
The underfill mechanism deals with cases when the fill rate of a TRQ in any given year is below 65% or the fill rate is not reported. In the absence of an improvement in the fill rate or a satisfactory resolution of the concern, the importing WTO member may be obliged to change the management of its TRQs.
The Chair, Ms Maria Escandor (the Philippines), indicated she would commence discussions on the triennial review of the Nairobi Export Competition Decision at the next informal meeting of the Committee in March 2021.
Enhancing transparency in the Committee
On the issue of transparency and efficiency of the Committee's review process, Paraguay presented an analysis of members' responses to questions raised over the last three years. It suggested several ideas to improve the quality and timeliness of these responses. Members welcomed the WTO Secretariat's efforts to maintain and continuously upgrade the Agriculture Information Management System (AG IMS) and made suggestions on how to further improve it.
Follow-up to NFIDC Decision and members' participation in agricultural growth
The Committee carried out its annual follow-up to the Marrakesh NFIDC Decision by examining members' policies in favour of developing countries. The review was based principally on members' reported actions on food aid and on technical and financial assistance in their annual notifications to the Committee. The discussions also benefitted from a background note (G/AG/W/42/Rev.21) by the Secretariat.
Another Secretariat background note (G/AG/W/32/Rev.19 and Corr.1) containing global exports statistics on selected commodities facilitated the discussion on members' participation in world agricultural trade within the framework of export subsidy commitments.
Information sessions, side events, Agriculture Symposium
The Secretariat organized an information session in the margins of the November meeting to present enhancements to the Question and Answers function of the AG IMS. It also presented a study entitled “The value of the Committee on Agriculture: Mapping Q&As to trade flows”.
At a side event at the end of the meeting, the Inter American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), an ad hoc observer to the Committee, presented an analysis of IICA countries' participation in the Committee and the associated challenges.
The Committee meeting was followed by the 2020 edition of the Agriculture Symposium on 2-3 December whose theme was “Agricultural trade and food system transformation”. The symposium, held in a virtual format, was also an occasion to commemorate the 25 years of the Agreement on Agriculture. A video of the full event, the programme and other background documents are available here.
The next meeting of the Committee on Agriculture will be held on 29-30 March 2021.