TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec12/06)
19 December 2012
Third World Network

Agriculture: Chair reports on consultations on G-20 papers
Published in SUNS #7485 dated 22 November 2012

Geneva, 21 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- An informal meeting of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture last week heard a report from its Chair on recent consultations that he had held on two "non-papers" from the G-20, as well as views from members on these two papers.

One G-20 non-paper, in the form of a textual proposal and an accompanying annex, is an "understanding" on tariff rate quota (TRQ) administration provisions on agricultural products.

The second non-paper is a G-20 request for studies (by the Secretariat) on TRQ administration and on export competition.

With regards to the second non-paper (dated 28 September), it is learned that on TRQ administration, the G-20 has proposed that updated information be obtained regarding the application of different types of TRQ administration methods by members and the associated tariff quota fill rates.

It is also learned that the G-20 has proposed that the Secretariat's paper on TRQ administration should include information on: (i) tariff quotas and imports under tariff quotas for the period 2002-2011; (ii) tariff quotas created or modified by members due to Article XXVIII or Article XXIV: 6 negotiations of GATT 1994; (iii) tariff quota administration methods applied and/or modified by members and their associated tariff quota fill rates for the period 2002-2011; and (iv) overview of the compliance of members with Table MA: 1 notifications.

On export competition, it is learned that the G-20 has proposed that there should be updated information on the use of export subsidies by members regarding the four areas covered by the modalities: (i) export subsidies; (ii) export credits, export credit guarantees and insurance programmes; (iii) state trading enterprises; and (iv) food aid.

Both non-papers were introduced at the last informal meeting on 28 September.

In his opening remarks at the informal meeting on 16 November, the Chair, Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand, said that he had been consulting with members on the two G-20 proposals since early October.

On the non-paper proposing that the Secretariat circulates updated information on both TRQ administration as well as export competition, the Chair recalled that at the 28 September informal meeting, most members that took the floor indicated "an openness to see this work being taken forward" although there were a number of questions from some delegations, which the Chair said he has been seeking to resolve in the course of his consultations.

He noted that there was also a specific additional suggestion at that informal meeting for this information to be complemented by the Secretariat with an update on notifications on export restrictions, on a similar basis to the material requested on TRQ administration and export competition.

Reporting on his discussions with a range of members on the G-20 non-paper on TRQ administration, Ambassador Adank said that he has been encouraged by the willingness of members to engage in this area, consistent with the guidance from the eighth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC8, held in Geneva last December).

"I think this does reflect the fact that members across the spectrum recognise that an agricultural component to our Doha-related work remains crucial to the success of the broader effort, even if the consultations have revealed a range of sensitivities about the extent to which a selective approach may be able to achieve the overall balance necessary in agriculture," he added.

"It's fair to say I have not heard ‘No' from any member on the idea that TRQ administration might form part of a broader range of Doha-related decisions taken forward in the next year, even if it's not possible to say there has been an unreserved ‘Yes' to the specific proposal of the G-20," said the Chair.

While a number of members are supportive of taking the proposal forward for endorsement on the basis that it effectively replicates the supposedly stabilised text of the Rev. 4 (the draft modalities) document in paragraphs 115-125, discussions with some other members have indicated "reluctance to move quickly" in the same direction, the Chair reported, noting that this reluctance stems from two main concerns.

First, the Chair explained, is that some members are focusing on how this proposal is linked to other issues proposed for early decisions, both within and outside the discussions on agriculture, and secondly, it is evident that some members remain sensitive about certain aspects of the proposal which they do not agree or regard as stabilised in the same way as the proponents of the proposal.

The Chair said that he has not detected "any significant sensitivities" with regard to the first part of the proposal with focuses on transparency provisions of TRQ administration.

However, he added, some aspects of the "underfill mechanism" outlined in the annex (to the proposal) continue to raise questions for some members, and in particular, there are different views regarding the special and differential treatment (S&D) provision in paragraph 4 of the annex.

Some members noted the importance of maintaining this aspect of the paper as formulated, while others considered this aspect would need to be accorded further consideration, said the Chair.

According to trade officials, members of the G-20 and the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters (coordinated by Australia) supported the proposal on TRQ administration. They however said the proposed disciplines would not be as ambitious as they wanted.

Some members (such as Japan) cautioned that although the provision is "stable" (close to being agreed) within the broader agriculture draft modalities text, on its own, it would not reflect the balance on market access that was negotiated.

Speaking following comments from delegations on the two G-20 non-papers, the Chair said that the comments do reflect a strong willingness by delegations to engage "in a much deeper way perhaps than appears to have been possible in the last year", with various members coming forward with more specific ideas.

On the G-20 paper on TRQ administration, Ambassador Adank said "it's clear I think from the discussions that we've heard that everyone is prepared to do further work in this area, even though I think it is also clear that in some cases we see that some delegations are not yet in a position to provide a final view on certain aspects of the proposal..."

According to trade officials, the Secretariat will compile factual information on tariff quotas, export competition and export prohibitions and restrictions.

Ambassador Adank said that some of these could be completed by the end of the year and the rest early in 2013.

According to trade officials, the Chair urged members to avoid "negotiating too much" in advance about the content of the papers. Rather, they should wait to see what the papers contain and base their comments and questions on them, he added.

Meanwhile, the G-33 (coordinated by Indonesia) has tabled a proposal on food security, which according to trade officials, seeks early approval for new provisions allowing government stockholding and purchases from poor farmers at supported prices to be excluded from calculations of the type of domestic support whose use has to be limited because it distorts markets.

The G-33 said this is necessary in order to provide food security for poor farmers, underscoring that the provisions are also "stable" in the 2008 draft modalities text - there are no square brackets around it, indicating the text is more or less acceptable.

According to trade officials, while members speaking in the informal meeting accepted the importance of food security, particularly in the present climate of high prices, there were differing reactions to the proposal.

G-33 members and some G-20 members supported the proposal, while other members said the issue is complex and needs to be examined closely.

According to trade officials, some members (including the European Union) said that this is particularly the case when the proposed amendment is isolated from the rest of the package, that it would imply no disciplines on stockholding. The proponents should explain how the provision should be used, they added.

Other members (including the US) said that the provisions still have not been discussed multilaterally in enough depth.

Some (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) said reforming agricultural trade by concluding the Doha Round would give food security the biggest boost, trade officials added.

According to trade officials, some members said that they are considering other candidate topics for early agreement. +