What are "modalities"?

"Modalities" are ways or methods of doing something. Here, the ultimate objective is for member governments to cut tariffs and subsidies and to make these binding commitments in the WTO. The "modalities" will tell them how to do it, but first the "modalities" have to be agreed.

With 153 members and thousands of products, the simplest way to do this is to agree on formulas for making the cuts. These formulas are at the heart of the "modalities". Once they have been agreed, governments can apply the formulas to their tariffs and subsidies to set new ceiling commitments.

However in order to agree to the formulas, members want a number of other concerns to be part of the deal. These include flexibility to allow some deviation from the formulas, tighter disciplines to ensure loopholes are plugged and trade-distorting subsidies are not camouflaged in permitted policies, and different treatment for developing countries and some other groups of members.

The result is a document that is considerably more complicated than formulas alone. But the aim is still to strike a deal that enables governments to open their markets and reduce trade-distorting subsidies. These new commitments are to be listed in documents called "schedules" of commitments.