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Work programme set for second phase of agriculture talks

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 27 March 2001 - - The Committee on Agriculture, meeting in Special Session, agreed Tuesday on a work programme for the second phase of the negotiations to continue the reform process in agriculture, but without prejudice to decisions that might be take at the 4th Ministerial meeting at Doha.

While everyone spoke of the good progress made in the first phase, and appreciated the large number of proposals and presentations - - some 44 negotiating proposals and 3 technical papers from 125 members - - some of the major agriculture protectionist countries  like Japan, the Europeans (both the EU and non-EU) and South Korea underscored that progress is unlikely except in the context of new round.

On the other side of the argument, is the element of a deadline of sorts under the AoA - - the ‘expiry of the peace clause’ end of 2004, after which, unless extended,  the EU and others providing domestic support or export subsidies, can be hit for violations of other obligations under the WTO, like the agreement on subsidies.

The work programme envisages six meetings - three Special Sessions of the Committee to be held in September, December  this year and March 2002, and three informal Special sessions in May and July this year and another in February 2002. There is to be a review of progress to take place at the formal March 2002 meetings.

The second phase is to have a focussed discussion on issues, and options for policy reform set out in the proposals, taking as the basis for work Article 20 of the AoA. The first two or three meetings, it has been agreed, will focus on issues relating to tariff quota administration, tariffs, amber box, export subsidies, export credits, state trading enterprises, export restrictions, food security, food safety and rural development.

The issue of Special and Differential Treatment is to be an integral part of all elements of the negotiations, and dealt with as a separate item in the work programme.

The Cairns group and a few others did not succeed in getting an agreement to end the second phase of the negotiations in March 2002, and with clear options and proposals set down for negotiations.

The work programme balances the views of three forces in the agriculture negotiations: the attempts of the Cairns group to push forward with a fast pace of negotiations, the efforts of EC, Japan to slow it down and submerge it in a new round with new issues, and the views of a large number of developing countries who want focus on their special problems in agriculture.-SUNS4864

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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