Current negotiations, implementation, and Doha

Negotiations in agriculture began in 2000, and are now in their second phase. They aim to continue reforms introduced in the present WTO Agriculture Agreement.

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Up to 1995, GATT rules were largely ineffective in disciplining agricultural trade. In particular, export subsidies came to dominate many areas of world agricultural trade, while the disciplines on import restrictions were often flouted.

The 1986–1994 Uruguay Round went a long way towards changing all that. Agricultural trade is now firmly within the multilateral trading system. The Agriculture Agreement, together with individual countries’ commitments to reduce export subsidies, domestic support and import barriers on agricultural products were a significant first step towards reforming agricultural trade.

The reform brought all agricultural products (as listed in the agreement) under multilateral disciplines, including “tariff bindings” — WTO members have bound themselves to maximum tariffs on virtually all agricultural products, while a significant number of industrial tariffs remain unbound.


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Current negotiations: second phase began in March 2002  

The negotiations are now in their second phase. The first phase began in early 2000 and ended with a stock-taking meeting on 26–27 March 2001. Altogether, 126 member governments (89% of the 142 members) submitted 45 proposals and three technical documents. Six negotiating meetings (officially called “Special Sessions” of the Agriculture Committee) were held: in March, June, September and November 2000, and February and March 2001.

In the second phase, the meetings are largely “informal”, with a record of proceedings taking the form of a summary report by the chairperson to formal meetings (i.e formal “Special Sessions”). The work programme decided at the March 2001 stock-taking meeting set a timetable of six informal meetings in May, July, September and December 2001, and February and March 2002. The September and December 2001 and March 2002 sessions are also followed by formal meetings.

The first phase consisted of countries submitting proposals containing their starting positions for the negotiations. The meetings discussed each of these proposal in turn. In the second phase, the discussions are by topic, and include more technical details, which is needed in order to find a way to allow members to develop specific proposals and ultimately reach a consensus agreement on changes to rules and commitments in agriculture.

The first three informal meetings of Phase 2 covered: tariff quota administration; tariffs; “amber”, “green” and “blue box” domestic supports; export subsidies; export credits; state trading enterprises; export taxes and restrictions; food security; food safety; rural development; geographical indications; and the special agricultural safeguard. Among the topics to be discussed in future meetings are: environment; trade preferences; food aid; consumer information and labelling; and sectoral initiatives.


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Implementation: three issues settled  

On 27 September 2001, the Agriculture Committee reached a decision on three issues of implementation — developing countries’ concerns about implementing the current WTO agreements.

  • Export credits, export credit guarantees or insurance programmes (which come under provisions dealing with the circumvention of agricultural export subsidy commitments): The committee agreed on future work both in its regular meetings and its special negotiating sessions, and to report to the General Council in late 2002. If OECD members reach agreement on agricultural export credits, the committee will also consider how this might be brought into the WTO.
  • Improving the effectiveness of the implementation of the ministerial decision on the possible negative effects of the reform programme on least-developed and net-food-importing developing countries: The decision covers food aid, technical and financial assistance, financing normal levels of commercial imports of basic foodstuffs (including, “an inter-agency panel of financial and commodity experts be established […] to explore ways and means for improving access by least-developed and WTO net food-importing developing countries to multilateral programs and facilities to assist with short term difficulties in financing normal levels of commercial imports of basic foodstuffs, as well as the concept and feasibility of the proposal for the establishment of a revolving fund”); and review and follow up in late 2002.
  • Tariff quotas to be administered transparently, equitably and without discrimination: A number of developed countries have supplied additional information on their tariff quota administration as part of increasing transparency following a decision by the WTO General Council. The Agriculture Committee noted that the General Council has also said this should not place undue new burdens on developing countries, and it agreed to keep the issue under review.


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The Ministerial Declaration

Article 20 of the Agriculture Agreement requires WTO members to negotiate to continue the reform, starting in 2000. Some countries argue that if these negotiations are to be built into broader talks covering other subjects, then in return WTO members should agree on more ambitious targets for the agriculture negotiations. This is proving to be one of the more difficult areas in the preparations for the Ministerial Conference.

The draft ministerial declaration circulated at the end of September 2001 lists seven topics and says there will be further consultations on what the declaration should say on these: the current negotiations and the active participation of developing countries; the long-term objective of reform in agriculture; the direction or aims of reform in market access, domestic support and export competition; special and differential treatment for developing countries; non-trade concerns; the schedule for the rest of the negotiation (currently there is no timetable); which body should handle the agriculture negotiations. 

Other material:
> An outline of the WTO’s Agriculture Agreement can be found in the section on agriculture in “Understanding the WTO” 
> See more detailed information on agriculture and the agriculture negotiations in the WTO