TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb09/10)
18 February 2009
Third World Network

Agriculture: Chair to continue consultations over next few weeks
Published in SUNS #6640 dated 16 February 2009

Geneva, 13 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO on Thursday informed Members that he has begun his consultations with various coalitions and individual delegations, and will continue with these consultations over the next few weeks in order to identify what issues Members want to discuss.

If a clear agenda of issues develops, then he would convene "Room E" meetings of some 30 representative delegations to discuss the issues, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand told Members at an informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture.

(The Chair had been consulting recently with various groupings in the agriculture negotiations as well as with individual delegations -- he has described these as "carousel" consultations, that is, talking to each group or delegation separately in rounds. So far, the consultations had focused on how the negotiations should proceed. He has now suggested holding two more intensive rounds of consultations, focusing more on the issues.)

Speaking at the first meeting of the full Membership this year, and also the first since he circulated his revised draft modalities text on 6 December 2008, Falconer said that his consultations with individual coalitions and delegations have focused on how the talks should proceed, ideas which he was now sharing with the full Membership.

The Chair described the consultations as a "carousel" or "hub and spokes" arrangement with the Chair as the "hub".

"It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that a carousel goes round in circles," he remarked in jest to journalists after the informal meeting.

Falconer told the informal meeting that he would hold two more rounds of "carousel" consultations, this time to look at substance, in particular, to provide an opportunity for the groups to react to his 6 December draft modalities text, and for them to let him know the topics they would like to see on the agenda in future meetings.

Counting the number of coalitions and interested delegations that are not part of a coalition, these two rounds could take about a month, Falconer said.

At the end of that period, he said that he would hold another meeting of the full Membership, which would be used to share information and to decide how to proceed.

The Chair noted that at some stage, Members ought to resume negotiations in a more "traditional" way. This involves a representative group of around 30 delegations in Room E in the WTO.

Falconer said that he would prefer to do this rather than use the "walks in the woods" (the Chair's talks outside the WTO) because the situation has changed.

According to trade officials, there were no interventions from the floor following Falconer's remarks.

Speaking to journalists after the short informal meeting, Falconer explained that the "walks in the woods" used in the last months of 2008 were needed because negotiators were working under the time pressure of trying to agree on "modalities" by the end of the year.

"That process, which was a more forcing-type process for decision-making, necessitated something like 'walk in the woods' discussions where you were really trying to nail down solutions that enabled Ministers to take a decision. That's not on the horizon right now," Falconer told journalists.

He was of the view that the Room E process is always more desirable than the "walks in the woods". If there is something to focus on based on his consultations, the Room E process would be the preferred format. But this would depend on whether progress is made in the informal consultations.

Asked whether the "carousel" approach is needed because the new US Trade Representative has not been confirmed yet, Falconer said that this was only part of the picture. The main reason was because of the situation in the agriculture negotiations in general, he said.

Asked if he was planning on coming up with any working documents on the various issues, Falconer said that he does not envisage bringing out any at this stage. +