The three texts include a draft ministerial decision on agricultural trade reforms, a draft ministerial declaration on trade and food security, and a draft ministerial declaration which would exempt from export bans food bought by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian purposes.
The DG said the three texts seek to set the negotiations on a new path forward, and to overcome the risk of stalemate on the earlier draft. She warned ambassadors that limited time remained until MC12, to be held on 12-15 June, and urged them to focus their suggestions specifically on crucial elements that could help members strike a better balance in the text.
“New drive and political direction”
The chair said the three texts are complementary and should be considered together. She also noted that the drafts reflected the difficulties members had faced in narrowing negotiating gaps on key issues.
“These draft texts reflect the reality of where we are today,” she told the meeting. She said the drafts aimed to provide the impetus to reinvigorate the agriculture negotiations by giving them new drive and political direction, and also to provide a meaningful immediate response to the ongoing food security crisis.
Members should now be guided by “a strong sense of urgency and responsibility”, the chair said, underscoring the need to deliver results at MC12 which demonstrate WTO members' ability to move forward together on their shared objectives on food and agriculture trade. Doing so would also demonstrate the WTO's relevance in the face of the urgent global challenges facing the food and agriculture system today, she said.
Chair introduces three draft texts
The chair said the draft text on the agriculture negotiations, which sets out broad objectives for each negotiating topic and some principles to guide the negotiations post-MC12, marks “a new beginning” in the negotiating process, establishing a clear commitment to continuing the negotiations and achieving concrete outcomes by the following ministerial conference (MC13).
The new text preserves in a streamlined and concise form the spirit and key elements of the previous version, she said.
The chair told the meeting that the separate draft declaration on trade and food security highlights the multiple challenges to global food security and puts forward several proposed actions, including keeping trade flowing and minimizing trade distortions as far as possible, as well as emphasising the importance of taking account of the needs of least developed countries (LDCs) and net food-importing developing countries (NFIDCs).
Thirdly, the draft declaration exempting from export restrictions food bought by the UN's World Food Programme includes a paragraph to confirm that the decision does not affect members’ right to adopt measures to ensure their domestic food security.
While several members regretted a lower level of ambition than expected, many members agreed that the overall structure of the three texts improved the equilibrium among negotiating topics and strengthened the prospects for success at MC12.
Some members insisted on the importance of balance across the board and made the case that all negotiating topics should have the same level of ambition and the same deadline for concluding negotiating “modalities” — the blueprint deal which would set out how members eventually establish new commitments.
On food security, most members agreed the draft declaration would represent a much-needed immediate response from the WTO to the looming food crisis. Some said the text should more explicitly emphasise the crucial role of trade in addressing food security. Some also proposed linking the draft declaration more clearly with the ongoing negotiations under Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture as part of the long-term solution to improving food security in the future.
Some developing members suggested the text emphasise more clearly the importance of improving their domestic productivity and improving access to food.
While almost all members expressed their support for the WFP waiver, two continued to express reservations. Some members also said they favoured a clear and simple declaration on the WFP waiver without the second paragraph.
Public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH)
Indonesia introduced a draft ministerial decision on public stockholding which it had co-sponsored with a number of other members of the G-33 developing country group, along with the African Group and the ACP Group (JOB/AG/229, restricted).
The submission harmonizes the thinking of three groups on how a “permanent solution” could be found to the problems some developing countries say they face under WTO rules when buying food at administered prices as part of their public stockholding programmes for food security purposes.
The proposal would allow developing members more leeway to use administered prices to buy food from farmers under these schemes.
The co-sponsors told the meeting that the proposal attempted to address other members’ concerns that these programmes could distort trade and undermine food security in other countries. The submission proposes a new method of calculating the “external reference price” used to calculate levels of trade-distorting support under WTO rules.
Brazil also introduced its submission on food security (JOB/AG/230, restricted) which sets a goal of establishing a permanent solution on public stockholding by the date of MC13, with a set of principles intended to prevent members from distorting markets for food and farm goods through their use of these policy tools. The submission made the case that public stockholding programmes should be discussed within the overall framework of agricultural trade reform, and in parallel with the negotiations on reducing trade-distorting domestic support.
Many developing country members called for ministers to reach agreement on a permanent solution on public stockholding, in line with the long-overdue mandate, at MC12.
Agricultural exporting countries from both developed and developing regions regretted that the joint proposal arrived only days before the ministerial conference, leaving no time to discuss technical details or address other members’ concerns. They also said that the proposal was unacceptable because it allows developing country members to subsidise food purchases under public stockholding schemes, without limits, with little transparency, and without recourse to the WTO’s dispute settlement process. These members also argued that the new joint proposal could lead to an increase in the level of trade-distorting support allowed under WTO rules, and therefore it was necessary to address public stockholding in conjunction with talks on agricultural domestic support reform.
Several agricultural exporting members shared the view that more technical analysis of trade-distorting support is needed, irrespective of whether it is provided as part of public stockholding schemes or under other government programmes. They also said that the language on public stockholding in the draft text shared by the DG and the chair provides a more viable outcome at MC12.
The chair told members she had taken careful note of all interventions and urged negotiators to continue their work in a spirit of goodwill and pragmatism.
Special safeguard mechanism (SSM)
The chair said WTO members’ negotiating positions continue to diverge significantly on a “special safeguard mechanism” (SSM) that would allow developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily on farm imports in the event of a sudden surge in import volumes or a price depression.
She told the meeting that the proposed draft text seeks to address the existing technical deficit in the SSM deliberations. She also recalled some members' interest in exploring the idea presented by the least developed countries (LDC) group in JOB/AG/227 to establish a simplified safeguard instrument to remedy negative effects of subsidized imports. She said this element can be easily accommodated under the proposed technical discussions in the draft text in order to achieve progress at MC13.
Both proponents and non-proponents expressed willingness to consider a work programme on SSM — as the basis for an outcome at MC12. Developing country members who are proponents of an SSM, however, insisted on further clarity on the process and a possible timeline for concluding work on the SSM. The chair asked members to be sensitive to each other's positions and expressed her willingness to assist members in their ongoing efforts to conclude a successful MC12 package, including on SSM.
DG Okonjo-Iweala announced one more agriculture negotiating meeting will be held over the weekend, which would be open to all members, with a view to consolidating final comments and ironing out differences in the texts ahead of the General Council meeting on 7 June, before being presented to ministers for consideration at MC12.
Background information on the agriculture negotiations is available here.
The agriculture glossary is available here.
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