Amb. Abraham Peralta told the meeting that Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has suggested a three-track informal process focusing on: a food security declaration as an immediate response to current challenges; a proposed Ministerial Decision that would exempt food bought by the World Food Programme (WFP) from export restrictions; and an outcome that would guide negotiations on all agriculture topics after the Ministerial Conference has ended.
Chair: An agriculture outcome will help address ongoing crises
DG Okonjo-Iweala remains committed to ensuring that an outcome on agriculture at MC12 contributes to improving food security and nutrition, the chair said, and had held two informal meetings recently to explore ways forward in the talks. The chair underscored that urgent action is needed to respond to the multiple crises that the world is facing today. “Conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are increasing the vulnerability of people around the world,” she said, noting that the resulting food price hikes and supply shortages are pushing millions more people into poverty.
“In this context, it would be unimaginable for the WTO to fail to deliver on agriculture,” the chair told the meeting, urging trade officials to narrow the gaps between their negotiating positions to ensure that an outcome can be achieved.
The chair said her own recent consultations had focused on food export restrictions, including both the draft decision on food bought for humanitarian purposes by the WFP and options to improve transparency regarding WTO members' trade measures. She also reported back on recent talks on cotton.
Some members said they supported the DG-led process while emphasizing that any MC12 outcome should further the long-term goal of reforming agricultural trade by progressively cutting trade-distorting subsidies and opening markets for food and farm goods. They argued that doing so would build the foundations for a more resilient agricultural trading system and help market actors cope with future crises.
Members acknowledged that differences in the negotiations remained and exchanged views on what outcomes might be feasible at the Ministerial Conference. Echoing the chair's statement, several members called for pragmatism, realism and flexibility to reach an outcome.
While exporting members continued to prioritise progress on cutting levels of domestic support to the agriculture sector, many called for the Ministerial Conference to agree a work plan that would guide subsequent negotiations, noting that more ambitious outcomes may be difficult given the gaps between WTO members in the talks. Some members considered that the MC12 outcome should pave the way towards enhanced disciplines rather than opening new derogations to the existing ones.
Many members called for a balanced outcome that would establish a set of work programmes across all negotiating topics, based on the chair's draft negotiation text (TN/AG/50).
This would include: reducing trade-distorting domestic support to agriculture; improving access to agricultural markets; export competition — covering measures seen as having comparable effects to export subsidies; food export restrictions and prohibitions; cotton; public food stockholding programmes; a proposed new “special safeguard mechanism” (SSM) allowing developing countries temporarily to raise tariffs in the event of sudden import surges or price falls; and the cross-cutting issue of transparency.
A number of members favoured using the chair's draft negotiation text as the springboard for an outcome at MC12, while others argued that more was needed to reflect adequately proposals made by the African Group, the G33 (a group of developing members), the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), and the Least Developed Countries Group.
Several members stressed in their interventions the need for the WTO to address at MC12 the on-going food security crisis both in the short and medium term, with some of them noting the clear link between these two tracks. Some members also noted the negative impact of the conflict in Ukraine on regional and global food security.
Many participants shared the view that an outcome on the exemption of export restrictions for WFP food purchases represented “low-hanging fruit” that would be particularly timely in this context.
A few members also appealed for broader support for the UK-led “Joint statement on open and predictable trade in agricultural and food products” (WT/GC/248), cautioned against the imposition of unjustified export restrictions, stressed the importance of transparency and called on members to keep markets open.
One net food-importing developing country noted the unprecedented food security challenges faced by LDCs and net food-importing developing countries due to recent developments on global markets. It stressed the need to explore appropriate replies and asked the Committee to add food security as a stand-alone item to its agenda to facilitate a continuous discussion.
One member took this opportunity to explain to other members the rationale behind a measure recently adopted to restrict exports and took a position in favour of better monitoring of grain trade flows.
Some developing members reiterated their view that domestic support should first be cut to “de minimis” levels — defined as a share of a member’s value of production — thereby reducing current ceilings for the “Aggregate Measurement of Support” which some members currently have above their de minimis threshold.
Public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH)
While several countries repeated their calls for a “permanent solution” to the problems some say they face when buying food at administered prices under public stockholding programmes for food security purposes, some agricultural exporting members presented data which they said continued to raise questions about the need for such an outcome.
Canada presented a joint submission with Australia, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Thailand, the United States and Uruguay (JOB/AG/210/Rev.2 initially circulated in July 2021 and updated in March 2022). This compiles available information on all public stockholding programmes which developing members applied during 2001-2022. Co-sponsors said the analysis demonstrated that significant gaps in information persist, and that the limited use of these programmes threw into question why a permanent solution on PSH is needed.
Some developing members questioned the methodology and suggested adding information about developed members in order to ensure that the analysis was comparable. They argued that many developing members faced difficulties in reporting on their programmes to the WTO, and that for this reason the lack of available data could not be interpreted to justify disengaging from talks on a permanent solution to the challenges they face in this area.
While acknowledging the rightful concerns on food security from developing members, non-proponents insisted they cannot accept the expansion of the Bali interim decision on PSH into a permanent solution (which they said creates more trade-distorting subsidies). Moreover, some pointed out food security is more than just public stockholding and needs to be tackled in a holistic manner as an integral part of the overall agriculture reform package.
Several groups of members also indicated that they were still working on revised or updated negotiating submissions which they hoped to table soon.
Special safeguard mechanism
The chair noted members' interest in continuing discussions on the ideas presented by the LDC Group in JOB/AG/227, which calls for a safeguard instrument to remedy negative effects of subsidized imports. The chair said this approach can also fall under the thematic discussion proposed in her draft negotiation text. She also noted that, while some members continued to see this question as being directly linked to improvements in market access, others saw it as unrelated.
While some developing members continued to call for an outcome in this area at MC12, others indicated that they would be able to accept a work programme in this area to guide negotiations after the Ministerial Conference.
The chair asked members to be open and sensitive to each other's concerns, and said she remains willing to convene further consultations on this topic in support of an outcome in the area at MC12.
The chair regretted that members had been unable to take significant steps forward so far to narrow some remaining gaps between their negotiating positions. She indicated she would report to the DG on members' discussions and continue to reflect on the best way forward.
“I remain firmly committed to an outcome at MC12 and will do my best to facilitate the negotiation process,” she said, noting more consultations are foreseen, and that more flexibility from members is needed.
“I invite you all to discuss all the topics under negotiation in a constructive and pragmatic manner to see what is achievable by MC12,” she concluded.
The next negotiating meeting open to all members is scheduled for 1 June. A meeting before that date is possible should it be deemed necessary.
Background information on the agriculture negotiations is available here.
The agriculture glossary is available here.