TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept09/15)
24 September 2009
Third World Network

Chair to consult on work plan for coming months
Published in SUNS #6775 dated 18 September 2009

Geneva, 17 Sep (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO will be working with members this week to develop a schedule of work for the coming months, with the aim of completing the negotiations in 2010.

This emerged at an informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

According to trade officials, this would include the possibility of meetings in the weeks of 12 October, 16 November and 7 December.

This week's consultations would include identifying which topics should be covered and in what order.

According to trade officials, the agreement to look further ahead is a response to the New Delhi Ministerial meeting of 3-4 September which had called on senior officials and the chairs of the negotiating groups to develop a work programme, intensify their efforts and try to complete the negotiations next year.

Trade officials said that while Chairman Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand and some members underscored that the declaration by the ministers in New Delhi cannot be taken as the view of the full membership, they nevertheless welcomed the effort to re-energize the talks.

Ambassador Walker said the work programme would comprise two tracks: (1) On-going work on developing "templates" - electronic forms or tables for highlighting members' commitments, with accompanying tables containing the data used to calculate the commitments; (2) Tackling outstanding issues in the December 2008 draft modalities text and accompanying papers.

According to trade officials, the Chair has scheduled "Room E" meetings of some 36 delegations this week to consult on the work programme.

He has also invited members to discuss the templates: export competition on 25 September; and market access and domestic support on 2-3 October.

Regarding the outstanding issues in the latest draft modalities text, the Chair informed members that discussions in early July had identified about 11 "issues or categories of issues".

According to trade officials, members that spoke broadly accepted the Chair's outline.

Several said that the December draft modalities text reflected the large amount that has already been achieved and that it should remain the basis of the talks.

According to trade officials, the EU said that it could not accept members seeking to alter the parts of the December draft text that have already been "secured".

On the other hand, Brazil, the African Group (Egypt speaking) and Paraguay said the draft text is conditional on the outcome in other subjects, and that might mean that some "re-balancing" is required.

According to trade officials, the African Group stressed the issue of cotton, duty-free quota-free market access for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the development dimension. Mexico, Argentina and Burkina Faso also raised the issue of cotton. Zambia highlighted the LDC issues.

Some members (the African Group, Costa Rica and Turkey) highlighted the need to ensure that the process continues to be a multilateral one.

According to trade officials, they accepted that bilateral or smaller group meetings are necessary but said that the negotiations have to be by the full membership in Geneva.

Speaking to journalists after the informal open-ended meeting, Ambassador Walker said that the discussion had been a very positive one and that the purpose of the meeting was to report to the group following the New Delhi Ministerial meeting.

Part of the process this week is to try and develop an issue-based work programme in agriculture, he said, adding that he will be consulting further over the next couple of days to develop the work plan.

Asked if he had highlighted any particular issues that he would be working on, the Chair said that he had not highlighted any issues. There are a number of issues that are identified in the documents in December before the negotiating group.

"Obviously, we have to work to try and find our way forward to close the gaps on those issues," he said. +