TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug09/06)
4 August 2009
Third World Network

Intensive talks on agriculture planned for September
Pubished in SUNS #6749 dated 27 July 2009

Geneva, 24 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday outlined his plans for more intensive meetings after the summer break.

The Chair, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, informed delegations of his plans for further work at an informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee.

Walker said that he had been invited by India to attend a mini-Ministerial meeting in New Delhi in the first week of September, and he would resume his consultations as soon as he returns from that meeting.

According to trade officials, from the week of 7 September, consultations would be held with Members and groupings on filling in the gaps in the draft modalities text - including points where the previous Chair Ambassador Crawford Falconer had identified the need for further work, some of these in documents that accompanied his draft text of 6 December.

From the week of 21 September, there would be a continuation of the technical work that began earlier this week on Monday (see SUNS #6747 dated 23 July 2009). The Chair described the meetings of this week as a useful start in compiling questions.

(According to trade officials, these two tracks would continue in parallel.)

Speaking at the informal meeting, Indonesia, on behalf of the G33, said that the Group strongly and firmly believes that the right way forward is to continue focusing on the pending issues in the Rev. 4 document (the draft modalities text).

Any attempt that delays or sidelines the finalization of the modalities would jeopardize the conclusion of the Round, Indonesia added.

The G33 said that in light of continuing this work, the Group has proposed five technical issues of the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) to be included in the overall list that needs further substantive discussion, provided that all other Members are also ready to substantively discuss other pending issues of particular concern to the Group.

In conducting the next stage of negotiations that tackle the remaining issues of the draft modalities, Members should not lose sight of the development aspect of the Round and the overall balance in the outcome. The SSM should be among the issues that are viewed from that perspective, said the G33.

Referring to the work plan for continuing discussions on the various technical aspects of the scheduling templates and the Chair's intention, the G33 said that it is ready to participate constructively as long as it continues to be purely technical and does not alter the level of ambition in the draft modalities or the order of events mandated by the Ministers.

The Group reminded the Chair and the Members that this exercise should not in any way distract Members from the main objective of concluding the agriculture modalities.

The G33 also emphasized the need for technical assistance especially to the Least Developed Countries and the Small and Vulnerable Economies, in order to enhance the participation of developing countries in the next stage of the technical exercises.

According to trade officials, Cuba called on Members not to let the negotiations drift, but stick to the ambition that was set out in Doha, Qatar in 2001.

The EU said that it is important for delegations to respond to the signals from the political leaders on concluding the Doha Round.

Speaking to journalists after the informal open-ended meeting, Ambassador Walker elaborated on the work that was undertaken in the month of July.

He said that at the beginning of the month, Members had a run-through on the outstanding issues in the December draft text and the associated working papers. This week, there were discussions on very technical issues associated with templates and data requirements.

Here, Members have been looking at what those requirements are across each of the three pillars of the agriculture modalities - export competition, domestic support and market access.

And Members have been looking at what is required according to the draft modalities for the modalities themselves and also taking a first look at what will eventually be required pursuant to the modalities when Members have the post-modalities scheduling phase, he said.

"We're trying to front-load a little bit of the technical work associated with what data will be required and how you would require it in templates for the eventual schedules," he said, pointing out that this was a very initial discussion.

It is the first time that the group has really looked at these issues, he said, adding that Members were having more questions than answers. His assessment was that it was a very useful first start to get people to start thinking about these questions which are very technical.

Over the summer break, said the Chair, Members will be doing their "homework" around some of these technical questions so that when they come back, they can start to work through pillar by pillar and build up a common understanding of what is required.

In September, the Chair said that he will be looking to take forward work on both fronts - to continue the technical work on templates and to work with delegations on the way forward in terms of the outstanding issues from the modalities.

Asked at what point he would begin to prepare a revised draft text, he said "I'm not thinking about that at all." He said that he is looking at continuing to work with the delegations on the gaps in the modalities and on the technical work. +