TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug09/04)
4 August 2009
Third World Network

WTO Members get down to technical work in agriculture
Published in SUNS #6747 dated 23 July 2009

Geneva, 22 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- Agriculture negotiators at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have begun technical work on identifying what data will be required for them to eventually draft their schedules of commitments.

According to trade officials, Members are only at the beginning of what could turn out to be a lengthy technical process. At this stage, the aim is to identify questions on what data will be needed and when.

Members can then consider how to respond to these questions and to produce any others they might have missed, a task that has been characterized by the Members as homework for the summer break in August-early September.

Trade officials said that following the summer break, Members will return to draw up "templates", which will be electronic forms or tables for laying out the commitments, together with accompanying tables containing the data used to calculate the commitments.

According to trade officials, the actual commitments will be left blank at this stage, but some of the data to be used to calculate the commitments will be produced beforehand.

The Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, informed an informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session on 20-21 July that Members have to work under the assumption that the agriculture negotiations are heading for a rapid conclusion.

The Chair also said that he would hold consultations with Members on 23 July on a work schedule, which would cover these technical tasks as well as outstanding issues in the modalities.

According to trade officials, the sequence that the technical work would take leading to the schedules of commitments would be in the form of the following: (1) Members identify data needs and design blank forms (templates) for data and commitments (now and through the autumn); (2) Modalities agreed, perhaps with agreed blank forms or tables, and with some data attached; (3) Scheduling - forms/tables filled in; (4) Members verify each others' draft commitments; (5) Agreement on the commitments as part of the single undertaking in the Doha Round.

According to trade officials, several Members were of the view that the schedules of commitments will not be drawn up until after the Members have agreed to the modalities.

Trade officials said that Members representing a range of different positions in the negotiations broadly agreed on what they would need in this technical process.

A G-20 paper has pointed to three phases for data needs - before modalities are agreed, attached to the modalities, and later when the commitments are drafted.

Members also considered whether to first look at the data that would be needed first for the modalities, but decided to examine all data needs, working through the relevant paragraphs of the draft modalities text (TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4), and then to decide what would be needed at each stage.

According to trade officials, this gave rise to a range of data issues, which the Secretariat will compile and Members will now consider over the summer break.

Some examples of what is involved include Members' notifications, how to define products, data on subsidized export quantities (under export competition), value of production (under domestic support), and ad valorem equivalents (under market access).

Another issue involves the European Union's expansion to first 25 Members and then to 27 Members - this would require a revision of the EU's commitments. The EU told the informal meeting that this issue would be sorted out soon.

Trade officials also said that the negotiators decided to set aside for the time being an unofficial Secretariat paper (JOB06/99/Rev. 1, produced in 2006 and revised in 2007) on how the schedules of commitments might be prepared in both agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

Members this week also decided that they should prepare their own list of data needs (the Secretariat document has made no suggestions for export subsidies and domestic support).

There was also disagreement among Members over the timetable proposed in the document for various stages of the work. The EU for example said that the proposed period of six months for verifying the draft commitments is too long.

According to trade officials, some Members said that the document could still be used as a reference for checking their work.

Chairman Walker said that the result of the present technical work could be a new document that fills in missing parts on agriculture of the older document.

Consultations among some 36 delegations (in "Room E" in the WTO) are to take place on Thursday, with another informal meeting of the full membership on a work schedule to take place later in the day. +