On domestic support, the facilitators — Mr Greg MacDonald (Canada), Ms Fenny Maharani (Indonesia) and Ms Elisa Olmeda (Mexico) — said diverging views remain on key issues covered in their bilateral consultations. These include the categories of subsidies that should be deemed as trade-distorting, transparency obligations and their potential burden on developing countries. They reported positive feedback on Costa Rica's presentation on “trade distorting potential” in relation to “proportionality”, the idea that members would take on commitments commensurate with the potential impact of their subsidies on global markets. The facilitators urged members to suggest more topics for discussions and presentations.
On market access, the facilitator — Mariya-Khrystyna Koziy (Ukraine) — shared her assessment of how to advance discussions regarding possible elements for MC12 based on her bilateral consultations and members' responses to specific questions she sent them in December. She said there was a general reluctance among members to narrow down the topics for discussion and they remained interested in a comprehensive and balanced outcome. An outcome on transparency in relation to changes in applied tariffs and the treatment of shipments en route when tariffs change continued to garner support among members. She said she would engage with members in different formats based on members' inputs.
On export competition, the facilitator — Ms Laura Gauer (Switzerland) — highlighted further discussions on transparency and her intention to promote synergy between the regular committee meetings and those of the Special Session, especially in light of the upcoming Triennial Review of the Nairobi Decision in the regular committee.
The facilitator on export restrictions, Mr Leonardo Rocha Bento (Brazil), summarised the work undertaken on the proposal not to impose export restrictions on foodstuffs purchased by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). He referred to the joint statement (WT/L/1109) issued by a large group of members in January and said he will continue working with members to reach a text agreeable to all by MC12. Meanwhile, he announced his intention to pursue discussions on transparency, with a view to enhancing compliance with current obligations.
The facilitators on cotton, Mr Sergio Carvalho (Brazil) and Mr Emmanuel Ouali (Burkina Faso), said that their first phase of consultations with all major cotton trading members confirmed the clear desire to focus first on transparency and to deepen discussions based on a contribution by the Cotton-4 group (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) made recently on this theme.
On public stockholding (PSH), the facilitator, Mr Craig Douglas (Jamaica), said that four meetings will be held between now and May. The next meeting, scheduled for 22 February, will provide an opportunity for members to discuss changes needed to the Bali Decision for an outcome on this issue. It will also review how the negotiations should address members’ food security challenges while balancing the need to prevent market distortions or adverse effects on others’ food security. The meetings planned for March, April and May will focus on notifications and transparency, anti-circumvention/safeguards, and monitoring and implementation.
On the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), the facilitator, Ms Renata Cristaldo Oviedo (Paraguay), said a wide range of issues were raised in her consultations with members. These would be further developed in follow-up sessions. She said the issues deserving consideration included: evaluation of import surges; triggers and cross checks; remedies; scope (including coverage and treatment of preferential trade); and transparency. She observed that the facilitator-led process might not be immune from the broader political challenges and linkages generally faced in the SSM discussions.
Approximately 40 members participated in the discussions. Domestic support remained the topic of greatest interest to most members. A high level of importance was attached to food security by both developed and developing members, in particular in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several members confirmed the widely shared interest in supporting WFP humanitarian work by exempting its food purchases from export restrictions. Singapore called upon other members to co-sponsor the joint statement and said it will continue to seek a multilateral agreement on the issue. Some members considered that funding, rather than export restrictions, was the main obstacle facing the WFP.
Many developing members reiterated their demand for progress on food security, including reaching a permanent solution on public stockholding programmes and allowing them to use a SSM to counter import surges and price drops in food commodities and cotton.
On domestic support, the key issue for most members, discussions confirmed divisions on how to further discipline trade-distorting support and where to start. Many developing members reiterated their request for aggregate measurement of support (AMS) above de minimis to be addressed as a first step and for support in per capita terms to be taken into account. Other members supported limiting trade-distorting entitlements based on the approach put forward by the Cairns Group of major agricultural exporting countries and some other countries. Transparency was considered by some members as a potential outcome at MC12. It was generally agreed that more technical work is needed to close the existing gap in members' views.
On market access, the proponents of specific topics such as shipments en route presented their work plans while others continued to emphasize the need for an overall balance and prior progress on domestic support. Several developing members supported the C-4's call for an outcome on cotton domestic support going beyond transparency, while other members considered such a target to be out of reach by MC12.
One member suggested that time should not be wasted in repeating positions and that members should focus on the issues closest to achieving a consensus, such as the WFP exemption from export restrictions and across-the-board transparency.
Overall evaluation by the Chair
The Chair thanked all the facilitators for their work since the last negotiation meeting. She said the process “constitutes an essential preparatory phase” for future negotiations.
Highlighting the importance and complexity of domestic support, she commended Costa Rica's presentation and the first technical discussion on the issue. She called on other members to make similar presentations as “more clarity regarding the proposals and concepts can only be beneficial to the negotiations process in this priority area”.
The Chair noted the strong push for reaching a permanent solution on public stockholding as the COVID-19 crisis has brought to the fore the issue of food security. She said the pandemic has also triggered the call for an early outcome on the SSM. Seeing that no significant progress was reported on both fronts, the Chair encouraged members to submit new ideas for the technical discussions while she continues to work with the facilitators and hold consultations in different formats.
Technically complex issues such as market access may take more time but an outcome on transparency could be within reach, the Chair noted. The possible elements for an outcome “will comprise of both substantive elements and transparency-related elements,” she said, adding that the appropriate balance must be found across the board to identify the appropriate level of ambition for MC12.
Looking ahead, she said a critical question to be answered in the coming months is when and how to move from the topic-by-topic discussion process “to a more comprehensive integrated high-level negotiating phase to build convergence on the elements for an overall outcome on agriculture at MC12”. She noted that the response to this question would depend on the date of MC12.
The next committee meetings are tentatively scheduled for 10 March and 22 April 2021.
Background information on the work of the Committee on Agriculture is available here.
The agriculture glossary is available here.