TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct12/06)
11 October 2012
Third World Network

Agriculture: Committee meets again, G-20 presents new proposals
Published in SUNS #7450 dated 3 October 2012

Geneva, 2 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- Following a lull in the talks since March, agriculture negotiators met again at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 28 September, at which the Group of 20 (G-20) presented two new proposals concerning tariff quota administration.

According to trade officials, an informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee had been called by Chairperson Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand in order for Members to share information on their discussions since the last meeting in March.

The Chair said that after a lull in the talks, delegations' willingness to examine the new proposals will mean a greater engagement by negotiators, which has been absent for some time.

In his opening statement at the informal meeting, Ambassador Adank recalled the Political Guidance from MC8 (the eighth Ministerial Conference held last December), where Ministers - after recognising the impasse in the negotiations - recognised, amongst other things, that Members should explore different negotiating approaches while respecting the principles of transparency and inclusiveness.

"I think that document also highlighted the need to consider areas where progress could be achieved earlier than the full conclusion of the Single Undertaking, and also underlined the importance of engagement aimed at addressing the most critical and fundamental stalemates within the Doha negotiations," the Chair said, adding that the Guidance covered the whole agenda of the Doha Round.

Referring to the last informal meeting of the Special Session on 22 March 2012, the Chair said that it gave delegations an opportunity for an exchange of views on how the work of the Special Session could or should progress in light of the current overall situation confronting the negotiations.

"And not withstanding the difficulties confronting the round, the crucial importance of agriculture within the Doha agenda was emphasised at that time by a number of speakers," the Chair said.

He added: "A number of delegations also highlighted their views and priorities, but the discussions at that time showed persisting divergences on how to move forward. Some delegations indicated at that time that they would be reflecting further on various options.

"And I concluded that meeting by encouraging delegations to indeed reflect further on possible avenues for progress, but also emphasised the importance of engaging further with other members or groups of members who may share different views, since it's only by achieving some kind of convergence on ways forward that I can see progress being possible, and I think that remains a basic fact of life in the work of the WTO overall, of course".

The Chair had sent a fax on 12 June inviting delegations or groups that wish to do so, to meet with him to discuss their views and ideas. "And it's fair to say that I wasn't overwhelmed with requests from delegations."

Thanking those delegations that responded positively as well as those that he specifically sought out, the Chair said that in those conversations, some Members mentioned particular issues on which they felt progress should be possible, like tariff rate quota administration or export competition.

Some other Members expressed their ongoing sensitivities in relation to such topics or the general approach of selectivity within the agriculture agenda, although "it's fair to say that I think most members indicated that they were prepared to discuss any specific ideas that others brought to the table and to make their own positions on such issues clear without prejudging any particular direction or outcomes the discussions might take."

A number of Members made some connection between the work to be done within agriculture and the work being undertaken in other areas of the Doha work programme, the Chair said.

"Despite the lack of significant movement or developments overall, I do understand that some delegations have been busy over the summer break working further on possible ideas or proposals for work in specific areas and I very much hope that we will be able to hear more about some of this work or more recent thinking today," the Chair emphasised.

According to trade officials, the G-20 presented two new proposals, one being a draft "understanding" written in treaty language on the administration of tariff quotas - how imports within the quotas are shared among importers, when duties inside the quotas are lower than on quantities outside.

Brazil, the G-20 coordinator, said that the G-20 considers this to be a subject that could be settled ahead of a fuller agreement on the whole Doha Round package.

The other proposal is a call for new Secretariat studies on tariff quota administration, and on export subsidies and other forms of export competition - export credit and insurance, state trading enterprises and food aid, which can all involve hidden export subsidies.

Brazil said that the G-20's members have been working on new ideas since agriculture negotiators last met in March, except during the Geneva summer break.

They had only just agreed on the text to submit even though Beijing was still examining the tariff quota administration draft. The proposals are still evolving but the group felt it should present something to start with, Brazil said.

According to trade officials, speaking on behalf of itself, Brazil said that it considered export competition and the linked issue of cotton subsidies to be other contenders for subjects that could be agreed early.

Trade officials said that since the proposals were only circulated at the beginning of the informal meeting, most Members said they still needed time to study them before responding properly.

Most also said that they are committed to finding ways to move the talks forward, and would therefore respond seriously.

In their preliminary responses, some Members questioned the selection of issues that could be candidates for early agreement, such as tariff quota administration and export competition.

In their view, these are part of the December 2008 draft "modalities", which contains a considerable amount of agreement based on a balance of issues. The balance could be upset if these issues were isolated, they said.

Brazil said that the approach should not be challenged since Ministers had instructed their negotiators to look for potential "early harvest" subjects.

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the G-10, said that "export competition" should include export restraints.

According to trade officials, the G-20 members endorsed Brazil's statement on their behalf.

Norway remarked that it endorsed the beginning of the statement: "Mr Chairman ..."

Following the discussions, the Chair concluded the meeting by saying: "I think we all realise that a lot of the subject matter before us in the Doha Round is not easy to grapple with at this time, but I think the discussion has shown that as delegations become more specific about what they're seeking that there is going to be greater engagement, I think, from the range of delegations around the table because they at least have something to respond to."

"And I think one of the issues which has been quite challenging is that in many cases, delegations haven't had anything specific to respond to for some time. That's not to say, of course, that I think you know we can predict that there is going to be a resounding sort of quick agreement on anything other than the two words ‘Mr. Chairman', as Norway suggested," he added.

"Overall, I would say that this is a very, very promising start but you know as in all cases I think what the discussion has shown is that delegations will need some time to reflect and to engage and I think that we should allow some time for that process to take place from here before we determine the next steps," the Chair said.

According to trade officials, the Chair further said that another meeting of some kind is clearly needed, although he could not say yet when, or in what form. +