TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (July10/06)
12 July 2010
Third World Network

G20 voices its views on work on templates
Published in SUNS #6961 dated 8 July 2010

Geneva, 7 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- An open-ended informal meeting of the Special Session of the WTO Committee on Agriculture discussed on Tuesday whether agriculture negotiators should create templates for Members' commitments in all areas of the modalities, or whether some parts of the templates should be put aside until the substance of these parts is settled.

A paper, presented by Brazil on behalf of the G20 at the informal meeting, makes a distinction between elements in the three pillars of market access, domestic support and export competition where the work on templates could proceed easily without links to the substance, and elements in the three pillars where the templates and the substance are difficult to separate.

According to trade officials, the G20 argued that in designing forms for these issues (where the structure and substance cannot be separated), Members would actually be deciding on the outcome.

Citing a number of such elements, the G20 said that templates for these elements should be set up after the modalities have been agreed.

The informal meeting on Tuesday began fours days of agriculture negotiations in various formats.

According to trade officials, Chairperson Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand informed Members that he would hold another open-ended meeting on Friday amongst others to report on his consultations with delegations on substance (topics needing further negotiation and highlighted in the December 2008 draft text and accompanying papers, which the Chair has described as "bracketed or otherwise annotated").

Members said that they would also hold an open-ended meeting to discuss the issue of the value of production (a technical issue that has a bearing on Members' commitments on domestic support).

According to trade officials, Members agreed that the work on templates that began in July 2009 should be technical and neutral in terms of what the actual commitments will be, should be based on the December 2008 draft modalities text, and cannot be considered complete until the modalities themselves are agreed.

In its communication to the Special Session (room document JOB/AG/11), the G20 said that it has supported from the outset, the technical exercise on templates, and that it has consistently held the view that the exercise must remain technical in nature.

The G20 said that it took good note that the work on Step 2 (templates) has started with discussions on "road maps" in domestic support, market access and export competition, out of which the individual templates (i. e., blank schedules) and supporting tables for specific elements in each of those pillars are to be developed.

(According to trade officials, Step 2 of the template work involves designing templates or blank forms to be used for Members' commitments arising from the Doha Round of trade negotiations, as well as for any supporting data that is required.)

According to the G20, the primary objective of the agriculture negotiations is to complete the current draft modalities in agriculture (TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4).

Nonetheless, the G20 added, should the work on templates produce results to be agreed by all Members, the following basic assumptions of the exercise must continue to be respected:

(a) Templates formats in Step 2 should be of exclusively technical nature;

(b) Templates formats in Step 2 should reflect the TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4 document; and

( c) Templates formats can only be finally completed when the ongoing substantive work on modalities is concluded.

Together, said the G20, these assumptions would render a "politically neutral exercise", without prejudice to the ongoing substantive negotiations and to the level of ambition contained in the draft modalities.

"Such requirement is of utmost importance since the Draft Modalities are yet to be stabilized. Thus, templates formats should not prejudge or lock-in results which are to be determined when modalities are concluded," the G20 stressed.

The G20 noted that in its first contribution to the templates discussion (JOB/09/69 dated 16 July 2009), it had put forward the concept of "frontloading post-modalities technical work" as the overall objective of the templates exercise.

However, it said, in order to keep the exercise purely technical in nature, it is necessary to recognize that there are elements in the three pillars which can be frontloaded in a pre-modalities stage and others in which the frontloading would necessarily imply prejudging the final level of ambition of the agriculture package, a circumstance to be avoided.

In order to make operational the above concepts, the G20 distinguished two categories of elements in the market access, domestic support and export competition pillars of TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4:

(a) Elements in which "the structure can be separated from the substance" and thereby the level of ambition is not affected by the templates formats (some of those are the Overall Trade-distorting Domestic Support tiered-formula format; the Final Bound Total AMS tiered formula format; the market access tiered formula for tariff reduction format; among others). For these elements, Step 2 templates
(scheduling formats and supporting tables) should be elaborated in a pre-modalities phase; and

(b) Elements in which "the structure cannot be separated from the substance", i. e., the structure is the final substantive level of ambition (some of these are some country-specific flexibilities in domestic support; the tariff capping; the Special Safeguard - SSG; the creation of new Tariff Rate Quotas; tariff simplification; the commitments on export subsidies; among others). For these elements, Step 2 templates (scheduling formats and supporting tables) should be elaborated in a post-modalities phase, once the final level of ambition is agreed.

The G20 paper stressed that the distinction between these two elements relates exclusively to templates formats in Step2 and is not to be construed as to imply a distinction between stabilized (un-bracketed) and non-stabilized (bracketed) substantive issues in TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4, as all pending issues must be resolved before modalities.

The G20 added that the whole package needs to be stabilized in accordance with the mandate.

According to trade officials, G20 members Argentina, China, India, Cuba and Egypt were among the countries that argued that negotiators need to sort out the remaining issues of substance, and not leave these issues aside simply because they are more difficult.

Argentina reiterated that some issues need to be tackled even if they are not "bracketed or otherwise annotated".

On the other hand, according to trade officials, the G10 (Switzerland speaking), Australia, the European Union and Chinese Taipei (G10 member) were of the view that getting as much as possible work done early on the templates, and before the modalities are agreed, would speed up the task, even if the templates are conditional on the modalities - leaving open the possibility of changing the templates to conform to the modalities.

The G10 and the EU viewed the G20's distinction between the two groups of issues as arbitrary, depending on particular countries' interests.

According to trade officials, they warned against setting a precedent that could lead to other countries picking their own issues for the second category, further reducing the work that can be done at this stage.

The US asked why the G20 did not consider templates for export subsidies to be separate from the substance.

As to the issue of "road maps", trade officials said that the agriculture negotiators are beginning to move from the first step of identifying the data needed, to the second step of designing templates, at least in some areas.

Canada and Australia presented "road maps" as suggestions for how to move ahead and eventually create the templates in domestic support and export subsidies, for agriculture as a whole, and for cotton.

According to trade officials, Canada drew attention to the fact that Members' present domestic support commitments are only on Amber Box-type domestic supports. Four new areas will have to be added for the commitments resulting from the Doha Round: overall trade-distorting domestic support, Blue Box support, Amber Box support per product, and Blue Box support per product.

During the discussion on export subsidies, Argentina and Brazil reminded Members that the current agreed date for the elimination of export subsidies is 2013.

This was agreed to at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference of 2005 and has not been changed since, they said.

According to trade officials, Brazil said that if the modalities are agreed in or after 2013, no templates will be needed for export subsidies, since these will have to be eliminated on the spot.

The EU reminded delegations that the date of 2013 (for the elimination of export subsidies) was conditional because it depended on achieving the rest of the Hong Kong Declaration.

If the rest is not achieved, then the 2013 date would have to be re-assessed along with all the other issues, the EU said. +