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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb13/08)
28 February 2013
Third World Network

Technical "information-sharing" meetings  till early March
Published in SUNS #7528 dated 19 February 2013
 
Geneva, 18 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- A series of "information-sharing" meetings at the technical level concerning the G-33 proposal on public stockholding for food security are to take place from this week through to early March, an informal meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee has heard.
 
According to trade officials, the Chair, Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand, said that the purpose of the meetings (the actual dates of which are yet to be announced), will not be to negotiate at this stage, but to improve members' understanding of practices and policies currently in place.
 
This series of meetings will be purely to share information, without affecting members' negotiating positions or their rights and obligations in the WTO, the Chair added.
 
In his opening statement at the informal meeting on 15 February, the Chair said that the meeting was an organisational one to discuss the way forward with the "information-deepening exercise" on the G-33 proposal on some elements of TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4 (draft agriculture modalities text of December 2008) for early agreement to address food security issues (see SUNS #7525 dated 14 February for details of the G-33 proposal).
 
He added that following the introduction of this proposal last November, there have been various informal discussions amongst members that have highlighted that given some of the complexities of the subject matter involved in the proposal and to understand its implications, that more factual information was required on the relevant programmes and policies in place amongst members.
 
The Chair said on that basis, in order to facilitate a more substantive discussion, he had sent out a questionnaire last December asking members implementing the programmes of public stockholding for food security purposes and domestic food aid to provide background information. He noted that as of now, there are around 22 responses to the questionnaire.
 
"... I think we are therefore now in a position to deepen this work at a technical level," Ambassador Adank said.
 
He added that the way he sees the work forward here is that "we need to initiate a process of technical discussions beginning next week and these technical discussions will consist of a series of meetings that will allow members that have provided background information on their public stockholding and food aid programmes to present any additional information that they may want to by way of background to their submissions, or provide additional comments, should they wish to do so."
 
He stressed that this is meant very much "to be a technical process, not a political process, whose aim is to enhance common understanding of the information provided and of the context for the G-33 proposal."
 
The Chair further said that all of the discussions will be without prejudice to members' negotiating positions in the Doha Round or to their rights and obligations under the WTO.
 
He underlined that what he would very much like to see is that this information-exchange and question-and-answer process would be concluded by the beginning of March, "so that we can then engage in a more substantive discussion of how members view this proposal and assess its implications and their reactions to it", taking into account all the information that has been provided by members since the proposal was first introduced last year through the questionnaire and the subsequent discussion.
 
"So, the real goal of this process is, I think, to improve our understanding of the existing domestic programmes that members have in this area, addressed by the proposal," he said. This is very much an "information-sharing exercise so that we understand these programmes," he added.
 
He reiterated the sense of urgency that everyone feels about this process - about the need to get a process underway at the technical level that will allow for all of the information that will allow for a substantive discussion to be transacted and digested amongst the technical level experts that make up the Agriculture Committee.
 
According to trade officials, Ambassador Adank urged members to move swiftly, and avoid procedural "wrangling", because time is running short for deciding on this and other issues that could be earmarked for agreement at the Bali Ministerial Conference (3-6 December 2013).
 
"I think everyone recognises that we're in an extremely time-bound process of preparations for the Bali ministerial conference ..."
 
According to trade officials, members that spoke supported the process and recognised that time was running short.
 
Some members were of the view that the issue needs to be considered with real-life information about how countries implement stockholding for food security, what the constraints are, and what their intentions are.
 
According to trade officials, some said that members should avoid abstract discussions about wording, while some others said that countries with questions should submit them in advance so that officials in capitals can prepare answers.
 
Several members called for a clearer timetable of meetings and topics to be discussed over the coming months so that delegates based in Geneva and in the capitals can prepare better and decide when to travel.
 
According to trade officials, the Chair responded that a clearer picture of what will be needed will emerge once the technical meetings start.
 
Some members said that they would like to know by the summer break (August and early September) all the proposals that will be on the table for the Bali ministerial.
 
On the concerns expressed by some over the agriculture negotiating sessions clashing with meetings in other subjects, Ambassador Adank said he is aware of the concerns and will try to avoid clashes. +

 


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