TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr12/05)
3 April 2012
Third World Network

Agriculture, TRIPS chairs to consult on way forward
Published in SUNS #7339 dated 28 March 2012

Geneva, 27 Mar (Kanaga Raja) - The chairs of the Special Sessions of the Agriculture Committee and the TRIPS Council are to hold consultations with the membership in an effort to move the negotiations forward in both these bodies.

The Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture held an informal open-ended meeting on 22 March, while the Special Session of the TRIPS Council, where negotiations on setting up a multilateral register for geographical indications (GIs) for wines and spirits are taking place, held a formal meeting on 23 March.

Both negotiating groups are meeting for the first time since the eighth ministerial conference (MC8) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) concluded last December.

According to trade officials, at the informal meeting on agriculture on 22 March, members promised to examine new approaches (in line with the call from ministers at MC8 for a change in approach to move the stalled Doha talks forward) that might help move forward the agriculture negotiations.

The Chair of the agriculture talks, Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand, said: "My sense is that overall we are still at the stage of clarifying where things are - with the consultations to date and today's discussions being an important contribution to that - before we determine where that takes us. We need to listen carefully to each other."

At the informal meeting, which was called in order for the Chair to report on his consultations and for members to voice their views, the Chair said that members had told him that the search for a new approach would have to observe some conditions.

Some focused on subjects that concern them, and some warned against backward steps from what has already been achieved in the talks, the Chair added.

According to trade officials, the Chair further said that differences of opinion include which subjects might be agreed ahead of a comprehensive deal (the so-called "early harvest") and whether any political decisions can be taken in the present climate.

Ambassador Adank urged negotiators to continue to talk to each other so that they can understand each other's positions. He said that he would also keep in close contact with them.

"I will continue to consult with members, and to report on further developments," the Chair concluded. "I will not at this stage suggest a timing for a further open-ended informal [meeting], but will consult in due course on when this might be useful to schedule."

According to trade officials, during the discussion, some members (including Brazil for the G-20) said that their groups will continue to test ideas and present the results at the next meeting.

Some members were of the view that export competition - export subsidies and the parallel issues of disciplines on export credit, food aid and state trading enterprises - is ripe for an early agreement, including the declaration at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005 on eliminating the subsidies by 2013.

According to trade officials, other members (including the EU) said that the export competition commitment was always tied to an agreement in all areas in agriculture as well as on geographical indications in TRIPS.

Some other members (including the G-33 and other developing countries) said that whatever is agreed has to strike a balance between all three "pillars" in the negotiations, namely, market access, domestic support and export competition.

Several members said that agriculture remains central to the whole Doha Round.

According to trade officials, all said that they are committed to working with each other and with the chairperson to find a way forward.

Meanwhile, at the formal meeting of the Special Session of the TRIPS Council on 23 March, members elected Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria as their new Chair.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he will consult with members on how to proceed under the new instructions provided by ministers at the December 2011 eighth ministerial conference.

(At the last meeting of the Special Session back in March last year, a complete draft text for setting up a multilateral register for GIs for wines and spirits emerged, but one that contained some 208 pieces of text in square brackets, denoting a lack of agreement. See SUNS #7102 dated 7 March 2011.)

"I [...] intend to initiate, in the coming weeks, a process of informal consultations with the delegations, both individually and in groups, in order to determine how best we may operationalize those elements of the outcome of [the Ministerial Conference] that relate to our work," the Chair told the membership on 23 March.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he will report back to the membership when the consultations are completed.

In the short 15-minute meeting, Chile (for the "Joint Proposal" group) and the European Union said that they or the groups they represent are prepared to work with the Chair to find a way forward, under what they interpret as the mandate to set up a register that would "facilitate" the protection of geographical indications.

According to trade officials, the Joint Proposal group however said that it would not be prepared to discuss work outside the mandate. It reiterated that the system must apply only to wines and spirits, be voluntary, create no new legal obligations, respect "territoriality" and be simple and transparent to use.

(The "Joint Proposal" group is the sponsor of document TN/IP/W/10/Rev.3 and comprises Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Chinese Taipei, South Africa and the United States. The "W/52" group is the sponsor of proposal TN/C/W/52 and numbers over 100 members including the European Union, Switzerland, India, Brazil and China.)