31 March 2003

Farm talks miss deadline; but ‘work must go on’, says Supachai

Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi today expressed disappointment over the failure by WTO member governments to agree on a framework for future agriculture trade reform but said progress in the global trade negotiations can still be achieved provided governments continue to work towards bridging their differences.

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Mar 2000  Negotiations start
(over 100 countries present proposals in first year)

Nov 2001  4th WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar launches Doha Development Agenda (DDA), adding agriculture and services

 Dec 2002  Agriculture negotiations chairman Stuart Harbinson compiles “overview paper” (over 80 pages, compiling all proposals)

 17 Feb 2003  First draft “modalities” circulated.
24–28 February 2003: negotiations on first draft

 18 Mar 2003  Revised first draft “modalities” circulated.
25–31 March 2003: negotiations on second draft

 31 Mar 2003  Deadline for “modalities”

 Sep 2003  5th WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, Mexico
Members submit draft commitments

 1 Jan 2005  Deadline for most Doha Development Agenda negotiations

“The failure to meet the deadline for agreeing agriculture negotiating modalities is a great disappointment for us all. Negotiators must redouble their efforts in agriculture and all other areas of negotiation between now and the September Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico. My initial discussions with ministers and other senior trade officials, have given me some encouragement that this commitment exists,” said the Director-General.

Dr. Supachai welcomed the willingness of participants to continue working on agriculture modalities and stressed the importance of maintaining momentum in other areas of the negotiations such as services, industrial tariff reductions, trade and environment and reforming WTO rules, so that “positive linkages” with the agriculture negotiations can be established.

“The Doha Development Agenda negotiations are a single undertaking. No element of them will be agreed until all areas are agreed. But significant progress in some areas often provides negotiators with an incentive to overcome their differences even on the most politically sensitive questions,” he said.

In the 31 March negotiations meeting, chairperson Stuart Harbinson told delegations that the failure to meet the deadline was “certainly a setback. We must all be disappointed that all our efforts have not come to fruition,” he said.

He added: “I get a strong sense from all sides of a continuing commitment to the Doha mandate. I have also been told by many delegates that they are committed to continue working on the issues before us. We should not gloss over the difficulties, but we must also look to the future.”

He concluded: “The task ahead and our common responsibility is simple and clear — we must continue working together towards completing the job given to us by ministers in Doha as soon as possible.”

The 31 March deadline was for establishing “modalities” in the agriculture negotiations. These are targets (including numerical targets) for achieving the objectives of the negotiations, as well as issues related to rules. They will set parameters for the final agreement in the agriculture negotiations, for example how far import duties should be cut, and subsidies reduced or eliminated, and over what periods of time.

Along with almost all the other negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda, the agriculture talks are scheduled to end by 1 January 2005.

This timetable was agreed in November 2001, at the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar.

The negotiations’ chairperson, Stuart Harbinson, prepared a first draft of the modalities in February. Following comments from participants, this was revised in March, but Mr Harbinson noted that negotiators had tended to stick to their starting positions and had given him little guidance on how to narrow the wide gaps between them.