The Chair told members they must now sharpen their focus and start to close the gaps in their positions so as to be able to present ministers with a meaningful draft negotiating text to consider at MC12. She also told trade officials that a successful result in the talks could help to contribute to improving food security and supporting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. “An outcome at MC12 would send a strong signal about WTO members' willingness to put their differences behind them and work towards a common goal of enhancing food security for all,” she said.

Close gaps — or adjust ambition

At the meeting, which was open to all WTO members, the Chair reported back on the small group meetings she had held over the last two weeks. These were not for decision making, but rather to provide space and time for in-depth discussion, she said.

The Chair told negotiators that many useful suggestions had been made in the talks. They also now needed to choose between narrowing divergent positions in the talks and revisiting their aspirations for the Conference.

“We are reaching the point where we have two choices: either we find a way to reduce the remaining gaps, or we have to adjust the level of ambition,” the Chair said. She told the meeting that the small group consultations had been insightful and sometimes very lively.

At the meeting, trade officials welcomed the consultations as a useful complement to the ongoing negotiations, with some of them highlighting the importance of inclusiveness and transparency.

The Chair emphasised that the small group consultations were aimed at collecting inputs to prepare for the discussions in the Committee, which remained the core forum for the negotiations.  The Chair also informed members that she planned to initiate a second round of consultations immediately. She encouraged them to continue bringing “specific and constructive” textual suggestions to the draft negotiation text to “collectively develop the most realistic text and the best possible outcome”.

The Chair said she would again report back on progress in the next Committee meeting. She told the meeting that her ability to prepare a revised draft negotiating text would depend on the progress and maturity of discussions on each topic in the coming days.

The Chair´s full report is here.

New submissions

Members exchanged views on four new negotiating submissions, made by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, Lao PDR, and by Canada (one on its own behalf, and another on behalf of a group of members).

The ACP submission (JOB/AG/218) highlights the vulnerability of developing countries and least developed countries to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in relation to agricultural trade and food security. It emphasised the need to give WTO members adequate space to pursue policies through means such as public stockholding programmes for food security purposes, and through the proposed new special safeguard mechanism, which would allow developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily in the event of import surges or price drops. 

All members agreed on the urgency of addressing food security but remained divided on some of the elements contained in the submissions, reflecting long-standing divergences on topics such as public stockholding for food security purposes or the special safeguard mechanism. Several members welcomed the reference made by the ACP group to the importance of transparency requirements regarding restrictions on the export of food and agricultural goods.

The submission from Lao PDR (JOB/AG/220) proposes adding a chapeau to the MC12 Ministerial Declaration or to the agricultural outcome package at MC12 on the creation of a sub-group for negotiations on food security for “food insecure and low-income developing members” (FILIDCs).

While members said they shared the concerns of Lao PDR on food security, they queried whether there was a need to create a new sub-group, and asked what the definition and legal status of the FILIDCs would be. Some members asked Lao PDR to join the existing discussions on the mandated negotiation issues on public stockholding and the special safeguard mechanism. Some also suggested mainstreaming all discussions on food security in a broader, holistic approach.

Canada briefed members on its updated analytical tool for domestic support (JOB/AG/219), which as of 1 September 2001 summarized the domestic support notified to the WTO by 102 members between 2001 and 2020.

Many members welcomed Canada's contribution as a useful tool for evidence-based negotiations, and supported Canada's suggestion that the WTO Secretariat continue updating the document and publish it on the WTO website. Trade officials discussed whether the analytical tool could benefit from the inclusion of additional information, such as on the level of subsidies per farmer. A few also emphasised that transparency would be enhanced if members were to submit more timely and complete domestic support notifications. 

Canada reintroduced its submission on “Transparency in applied tariff rate changes” (JOB/AG/212/Rev.1), adding the EU as co-sponsor (alongside existing co-sponsors Australia, Brazil and Ukraine). Canada reiterated that the revised proposal will not impose any additional notification obligations and will only apply to changes in ordinary applied tariffs and not to measures like trade remedies or changes arising from tariff reclassification.

Some developing members expressed concern that developing countries might face difficulties complying with the burden of notifications, and that the proposal might entail possible unintended consequences, such as import surges resulting from advance notices. Some members asked whether this issue should be discussed at the Committee on Market Access, given that it affects both agricultural and non-agricultural products.

Dedicated session on public stockholding

The Chair noted that, during the small group consultations, some members had proposed a “third way” approach (in addition to the two options set out in the draft negotiating text). This would set out key parameters and principles for post-MC12 negotiations, including product coverage, safeguards, the legal form of a final agreement, and transparency.

At the dedicated session, both proponents and non-proponents restated long-standing views on this topic. Although aiming for a permanent solution on this question at MC12, several proponents indicated their willingness to compromise and meet other members mid-way. Non-proponents welcomed the positive gesture and some showed support for the proposed third way approach. Several non-proponents also reiterated the importance of basing future negotiations on evidence.

The Chair noted that strong divisions among proponents and non-proponents still remained and urged both sides to engage actively with each other on possible common ground for an outcome at MC12.

Dedicated session on special safeguard mechanism

Reporting on her recent consultations, the Chair noted that detailed discussions took place on the interim special safeguard mechanism proposed by the African Group. Presented by the Group as an alternative to their original proposal, the interim mechanism could be in force for at most six to nine years with a flexible legal form and a transparent approach on the product coverage. The linkages between the mechanism and market access were repeatedly invoked by non-proponents, the Chair noted. She asked members to assess the situation and advise on the way forward.

In the ensuing discussions, most proponents argued that an interim special safeguard mechanism would allow developing members a trial period to use this tool and test its effects. Several non-proponents supported the idea that members could seek to agree on principles for a post-MC12 work programme on this topic, given the limited time remaining. Despite expressing some reservations on how feasible it would be for members to reach an outcome on the special safeguard mechanism at MC12, a few non-proponents reaffirmed their commitment to engage in discussions with proponents.

The Chair welcomed what she said was the spirit of compromise shown by proponents and urged all members to deepen their engagement with one another, with a view to reaching a satisfactory result at MC12.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session is scheduled for 28 October.


Background information on the agriculture negotiations is available here.

The agriculture glossary is available here.




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