In line with a mandate in the MC12 Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity, WTO members established a work programme at the Committee on Agriculture meeting on 21-22 November 2022. This programme proposed the use of questionnaires to better identify challenges and needs of LDCs and NFIDCs as well as WTO members' responses to food insecurity in these countries. The aim of the questionnaire is to guide and inform discussions under each of the four thematic areas identified in the work programme: access to international food markets, financing food imports, agricultural and production resilience of LDCs and NFIDCs, and a set of horizontal issues to foster collaboration. It will help to build upon existing work undertaken by members and provide an evidence-based approach to discussions.
The main purpose of this first working group meeting, said Marcel Vernooij, the coordinator of the group, is “to discuss a few organizational arrangements of the working group and to seek the group's support on the first questionnaire in order to commence our substantive work”.
Several developing members, including the LDC and ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Countries) groups, said the questionnaire should assist the working group in identifying the needs of LDCs and NFIDCs, with the aim of increasing their resilience in responding to acute food instability. It will also help to assess how the multilateral trading system can assist these members in responding to current challenges.
These developing members also argued that the questionnaire should elicit responses from all members because a number of flexibilities for LDCs and NFIDCs available in WTO agreements, as compiled in the WTO Secretariat's document G/AG/W/227, often depend on actions of their trading partners. The questionnaire should therefore also require other members to indicate their relevant actions in favour of LDCs and NFIDCs and how those actions could help LDCs and NFIDCs to increase their resilience in light of acute food insecurity.
Australia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Uruguay and the United States provided input to assist in finalizing the questionnaire. They also noted that the focus of the questionnaire should not deviate from the work programme and should be guided by the agreed thematic topics set out in G/AG/35.
Some members considered that the questions should be neutral and refrain from a direct or indirect hint at expected responses. It was also noted that questionnaires should not be excessively detailed or burdensome; in this context, some members favoured a single comprehensive questionnaire encompassing all thematic areas of the agreed work programme.
After detailed discussions, members finalized the questionnaire, which contains seven questions. Closing the meeting, Mr Vernooij thanked members for their constructive engagement.
Highlighting the next steps, he invited members to make their best effort to submit a response to the questionnaire by 3 February 2023. The WTO Secretariat would then prepare a compilation of responses to be discussed at the next meeting of the working group tentatively scheduled for end-February 2023. The coordinator also proposed that working group meetings should normally be held every six weeks.
More information on the work of the Committee on Agriculture is available here.
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