Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr14/03)
22 April 2014
Third World Network
Agriculture: Differing views on how WTO talks should continue
Published in SUNS #7778 dated 4 April 2014
Geneva, 3 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- An informal open-ended meeting of the
Special Session of the WTO Agriculture Committee on 28 March saw a
difference of view among Members on whether the December 2008 draft
modalities text (or Rev. 4 text) should continue to be the basis for
the next phase in the negotiations.
According to trade officials, the Chair of the Special Session, Ambassador
John Adank of New Zealand, called on Members to avoid a "sterile"
debate about what is the best starting point for continuing the negotiations,
and to focus instead on the nature of the issues that need to be settled
and whether they can be resolved.
Before the informal meeting, the Chair had asked Members three questions
in order to kick off the planning on how to proceed in the talks.
The three questions were:
(1) What do Members consider to be the desirable and doable aims for
ongoing discussions and negotiations in relation to the three inter-related
pillars of agriculture?
(2) What contributions do Members consider they, and other Members,
need to make to this end?
(3) What new information do Members wish to bring forward, or would
encourage others to bring forward, to update earlier discussions about
policy settings and developments that may be relevant to the negotiations?
According to trade officials, most delegations said that they are
still considering their answers to those three questions. Some Members,
however, made some preliminary points.
Ambassador Adank concluded that Members have not yet reached a stage
where negotiators are providing thoughts that could produce an outcome.
According to trade officials, there were differences of view among
Members as to the starting point of the next phase of the negotiations,
basically on whether to use the December 2008 draft modalities text
as the basis.
A large number of Members (mainly developing countries) stressed that
the Rev. 4 text should be the basis for negotiating the rest of the
Doha Round in agriculture.
They pointed out that the Rev. 4 text was the result of years of negotiations
reflecting a balance of interests with large parts being ‘stable'
and that substantial changes to the text would undermine the negotiations
by unravelling a potential deal.
Members arguing that the Rev. 4 text should be the basis for the negotiations
included the G-20, the Cotton-4, the G-33 and the LDC (Least Developed
Countries) group, and various Members within these groups.
According to trade officials, a few Members disagreed.
According to trade officials, the US said that the Rev. 4 text was
not an agreed text in 2008, and that it has considerable doubts picking
up the Rev. 4 text in light of new data and analysis of that data.
Otherwise, it has an open mind (about how to proceed).
According to the US, one clear element that applies across the Doha
Development Agenda is that all Members need to make contributions.
These can be high, medium or low for any Member, but it must be balanced,
It further said that Members should look at the latest situation and
how the Agriculture Agreement has been applied, and that they should
be up-to-date in their notifications.
Otherwise, it would be difficult to discuss this, the US said, adding
that Members need new information, and that they cannot negotiate
based on old information.
The US stressed that market access is central including South-South
trade. There is also need to look at bound and applied tariffs and
to consider flexibilities such as special products and the special
Domestic support and export competition also need to be looked at,
said the US.
According to trade officials, the EU said that it accepts that the
draft text will be a reference document but that some parts of an
eventual agreement will be closer to the draft than others.
The EU also said that the world has changed greatly since the Doha
Development Agenda was launched, and that the significant changes
in trade patterns need to be noted.
Norway observed that the draft text is ambitious and that this is
reflected in the numerous carve-outs. It suggested that Members should
discuss how ambitious the deal should be, in order to answer the Chair's
question on what is ‘doable'.
In an apparent reference to the US position, trade officials said
that India asked what the basis of the work would be if the draft
text was not used.
Would previous agreements such as the 2004 ‘framework' agreement (an
outline agreement that eventually developed into the 2008 draft modalities)
also be dropped, or even the original mandate from Doha, it further
According to trade officials, several Members highlighted the need
for transparency, in some cases meaning that the talks should be inclusive,
transparent and bottom-up, while for others, this meant Members providing
up-to-date information on their agricultural trade programmes, which
is an obligation under the present Agreement on Agriculture.
Ambassador Adank noted that Members are already slipping behind schedule
on a new obligation to share information.
According to trade officials, Ministers had pledged at the Bali Ministerial
Conference to keep export subsidies (and measures with similar effects)
at low levels and to work towards eliminating them completely, and
that information should be provided so that they can monitor the situation,
a task that is being undertaken in the regular Agriculture Committee.
The Chair pointed out that the deadline for replying to a questionnaire
(on export competition) that was circulated by the Secretariat was
28 March, the day of the informal meeting, and that by then only seven
Members had replied.
According to trade officials, some Members said that although the
work should cover all three pillars of agriculture (market access,
domestic support, export subsidies and related policies), priority
should be given to export subsidies, as this was stated in the Bali
The Chair said that he would reflect on what Members had said and
that he will consult with Director-General Roberto Azevedo, in his
capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which is holding
its next meeting on 7 April.
According to trade officials, the Chair urged Members to discuss these
issues among themselves as well.
Ambassador Adank had earlier reported on his consultations at a General
Council meeting in mid-March.
In his report to the General Council, the Chair said that since the
Trade Negotiations Committee met on 6 February, he had held a series
of consultations with individual delegations, group delegations and
These consultations have been aimed at developing a better understanding
of how Members see the way forward for the unfinished business in
the mandated negotiations on agriculture, he added.
"This is the beginning of a process that I would expect to intensify
in coming weeks as delegations deepen their engagement aimed at identifying
paths to greater convergence on these issues that have not been the
subject of active discussion, in many cases, for a number of years."
Ambassador Adank said that the consultations have highlighted a range
of views from Members.
He said that there is broad recognition of the interconnected nature
of the "core issues" of agriculture, NAMA (non-agricultural
market access) and services which many Members have said should now
be the focus of efforts. There is also a strong recognition of the
particular importance of agriculture within this mix.
A number of delegations highlighted that agriculture was fundamental
and central to the development dimension of the WTO, as well as to
food security concerns, and emphasised the importance of continuing
the ongoing reform process in agriculture commenced in the Uruguay
Round. All of these aspects necessitated that it be accorded appropriate
According to the Chair, while some Members indicated that they were
not "demandeurs" on agriculture, and did not consider agriculture
a priority, these Members also recognised that it would be difficult
to make progress on other issues without agriculture being accorded
Most Members acknowledged the interrelationship of the three pillars
of agriculture - market access, domestic support and export competition
- and the need for a balanced approach among them.
"While some Members place greater emphasis or priority on one
or other of these three pillars, there is broad recognition that achieving
progress across all three will be important and necessary to arrive
at final outcomes across the agriculture negotiations."
Ambassador Adank underlined that among the three pillars, Export Competition
is recognised as an important priority for a large group of Members,
as evidenced by the pre-Bali discussions and the Ministerial Declaration
adopted in Bali. Many Members consider that this issue has been extensively
discussed with clear landing zones identified now for several years.
"Many Members highlighted the importance they attached to the
draft modalities (document TN/AG/W/4/Rev. 4 and associated documents
as referred to in TN/AG/26 of 21 April 2011) as a basis for further
discussions and negotiations on agriculture," said the Chair.
These Members noted that although this document had never been agreed,
it had built on earlier Ministerial guidance, was well known in their
capitals and reflected a range of discussions and compromises that
had been made in the course of negotiations up to December 2008.
Some other Members have, in contrast, placed emphasis on the need
for further discussions not to be constrained by the draft modalities.
They recall that the draft modalities have never been agreed and have
stressed the importance of remaining open to new creative approaches
to unresolved issues, as emphasised at MC8 (eighth Ministerial Conference
in Geneva in 2011) and MC9 (ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali in
2013), as well as ensuring that the discussions take account of more
recent developments or trends in agricultural trade and policies.
According to the Chair, ensuring that further discussions are assisted
by appropriate updated data and information on Member policies was
highlighted by some Members.
While this was not presented as a precondition to deepening engagement
on substantive issues, it was suggested that appropriate information
and experience sharing would greatly assist engagement and could help
to build confidence.
"A number of delegations and groups took the opportunity to highlight
their particular sensitivities and priorities within the negotiations.
I received no indication that positions here had undergone any fundamental
change from the last time discussions were active across the agriculture
negotiations as a whole."
The Chair further reported that most delegations highlighted the importance
of "balance" and "appropriate ambition" in any
results that were to be agreed.
"But it is clear that there are a range of views as to what these
elements amount to in terms of the different contributions Members
or groups of Members should be expected to make."
He said that some Members suggested that the architecture of draft
options considered in the past was complex in some cases, with ambition
in areas like market access being undermined by the application of
an extensive range of exceptions and flexibilities. The point was
also made that if success is to be achieved everyone will need to
contribute rather than just expecting additional contributions from
"The need to ensure a coherent approach between the work within
the Regular Committee on Agriculture to implement Bali outcomes and
the ongoing work within the Special Session was also commented on.
This was particularly so in regard to the work programme in the Regular
Committee on a ‘permanent solution' to the public stockholding as
well as the discussions and examination process in the Regular Committee
on developments in Export Competition," he added.
The Chair observed that this summary of views highlights the general,
and in many cases rather tentative, views that have tended to feature
in the consultative process up to the present.
This reflects not only the early stage of renewed engagement with
Members on "unfinished business" within agriculture but
also the fact that it is clear that many Members do not yet have definitive
views on a range of issues to which they are now turning their minds
after a gap of some years.
In a number of cases, said Ambassador Adank, Members underlined that
they also want to know more about the positions that others may bring
to the table before finalising their views.
"This too is understandable, and I hope it is a positive indication
that Members are concerned to take an open rather than a closed approach
to the discussions," he said.
"That said, developing greater clarity among Members on the substance
of the issues within the agriculture pillar that remain to be resolved
will need to be accorded greater priority if we are to make any progress.
This will require deepened engagement from delegations in the period
ahead in a variety of configurations," he added.
"I believe that all of these discussions can be advanced without
prejudice to the positions that various Members have in regard to
the draft modalities document. The essential task remains to find
through an honest, frank and pragmatic exchange of views how we can
unlock progress, rather than remain at an impasse on issues that a
large majority of Members continue to regard as fundamental,"
the Chair concluded in his report to the General Council meeting of