Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec15/16)
18 December 2015
Third World Network
Civil society expresses shock at draft agriculture text
Published in SUNS #8159 dated 18 December 2015
Nairobi, 17 Dec (Ranja Sengupta) - Civil society representatives present
at the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC10) have expressed deep shock
and disappointment over a draft text on Agriculture released in the
early hours of the morning here on the third day of the Conference.
The text was circulated by the Ministerial Facilitator on Agriculture
(Lesotho) together with the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture
in Special Session (Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand).
Civil society representatives, present at the Ministerial, expressed
deep shock and disappointment over the text released today. The text
has yielded nothing on the demands of developing countries, most civil
society groups here felt.
Expressing deep disappointment over the text, Timothy Wise, Tufts
University, USA, said, "The draft text on agriculture is a serious
disappointment. It offers no progress on key deliverables demanded
by developing countries - public stockholding and special safeguard
for import surges - fails to even mention new disciplines on domestic
subsidies, and in its one deliverable on export competition, the small
progress on export subsidies is diluted by weak language on export
credits and food aid, the two main instruments used by the US government
to promote its exports. This text utterly fails to advance the development
Deborah James, on behalf of Our World is Not for Sale (OWINFS), a
global network of NGOs and social movements (www.ourworldisnotforsale.org),
said "the agriculture text shows that all civil society concerns
voiced over the years and specific concerns expressed by developing
countries in the lead up to this Ministerial have been ignored".
Yash Tandon, President, SEATINI, Uganda, said "the draft text
of Agriculture is certainly not one of the desirable 'deliverables'
The section on public stockholding has nothing on the permanent solution
except to say, "negotiations ... shall continue to be pursued
as a priority in the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session,
in dedicated sessions and in an accelerated time-frame".
Those have been continuing for two years now in Special Sessions of
the Committee on Agriculture, but any discussion on the two proposals
submitted by the G-33 have been blocked by the developed countries.
Today's draft text simply reaffirms "the commitment of WTO Members
to agree and adopt a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding
for food security purposes by the 11th Ministerial Conference"
and confirms that the "interim mechanism as set out in the Bali
Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes,
and the General Council Decision of 28 November 2014, shall remain
in force until a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding
for food security purposes is agreed and adopted".
There is nothing for developing countries on special agricultural
safeguards either. The draft text simply says: "work on a Special
Safeguard Mechanism for developing Members shall be pursued taking
account of proposals by Members and in the broader context of agricultural
The Text stands stoic in refusing to grant any immediate safeguard
mechanism to developing countries against import surges, which has
been a longstanding demand of developing countries.
The G-33 had in fact watered down its proposals before the Ministerial,
and had proposed the SSG which is already used by 39 Members mainly
consisting of developed countries, but with special and differential
treatment, especially in the form of using the last 3 years' average
prices instead of 1986-88 prices. But even that has not been conceded
in this text.
Moreover, by linking the safeguard instrument specifically to market
access talks, the text refuses to recognize the developing country
argument that, even in the absence of progress on market access, such
an SSG is justified because of the high trade-distorting subsidies
provided by the developed countries to their farming sectors.
"It is clear from the new text on agriculture that developing
countries are getting nowhere in these negotiations. In particular,
there is no forward movement on a permanent solution for food security
proposal for public stockholding even after two years of negotiations
since the Bali Ministerial. The special safeguard for agriculture
has also not seen any progress even after several step-down in G-33
proposals. The developing countries should reject this proposal in
no uncertain terms," said Biraj Patnaik, from the Right to Food
Export competition is claimed as the pillar that has something to
offer comprising export subsidies, export finance, State Trading Enterprises
and food aid.
Export competition discussions have been going on for some time and
after the Hong Kong Ministerial there was an agreement to eliminate
export subsidies by 2013.
Since then 2020 has been discussed as the target year for elimination
of export subsidies and 2023 being the year for developing exporting
countries. The current text proposes the elimination of export subsidies
of developed countries by 2020 and those of developing countries by
While it is important to get this commitment, the declining share
of export subsidies makes this far from the "big deliverable"
the developed countries have made it out to be.
The other components of export competition have been more complex
and problematic with the US wielding substantial influence over the
talks. Export credit discussions in particular have already witnessed
huge blocks by the US.
Timothy Wise argues, "It is inexcusable that the US government
is using the current negotiations to legitimize its current levels
of export credits, which are large and extremely trade-distorting.
Over the last six years they have amounted to several billion dollars,
with $1.25 billion going to African countries. This is equivalent
to an export subsidy of $100 million, a large distortion that favours
US exports over African domestic products and over the exports of
There are several concessions to the US in the text. For example,
the current draft text allows the US to give credit for 18 months
instead of the 6 months that was allowed in the Rev.4 text.
A civil society expert also argued that there was a carve-out based
on special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries
for export subsidies related to marketing and transport in Article
9.4 in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).
But according to the text released today, this carve-out will be terminated
in 2028 or 2030, which reflects again a pushback on SDT in this Ministerial.
Sophia Murphy of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP),
said: "The draft agriculture text puts the US in its favourite
position: win-win. There is no reform in the draft proposed language
on export credits. By allowing an exception to time limits for not
just the poorest countries but also any net food importing developing
country (which includes Egypt and Kenya) the loophole covers all major
recipients of export credits. WTO members have no interest in making
concessions for what is already common practice. The proposed text
gives the US what it wants from the EU on export subsidies, which
the US hardly uses and which it has long wanted to eliminate. And
it has made no commitment to reform its own export support, which
remains all but untouched in the draft text now before the governments."
The civil society here has expressed deep concerns on the Food Aid
segment, where the text remains weak. This is one area where developing
countries and civil society in general had wanted binding disciplines
as residual food aid is creating distortions in domestic food markets
across the world undercutting farmers' prices and incomes.
The current text only has best endeavour provisions, still allows
monetization and is weak on local procurement.
Sophia Murphy, from IATP, said: "The draft text on food aid is
a disgrace. It's a big step back from the reforms included in the
draft WTO texts seven years ago (Rev.4) and is less than most of the
US development community are asking for. In a letter sent to USTR
Froman last week (http://www.iatp.org/documents/letter-to-the-ustr-on-global-food-security
), NGOs called on the US to end the monetization of food aid, in recognition
of both its trade-distorting effects and because it undermines markets
for the rural economies the aid is intended to support. The US position
demonstrates how little the government wants to see a successful outcome
to the Ministerial."
Prerna Bomzan, speaking on behalf of LDC Watch, a civil society organization
that works for 53 LDCs, said: "The Chair's text on food aid is
very weak and even regressive since it does not contain a 'safe box'
i.e. distinction between emergency and non-emergency food aid, as
mandated in the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration. It legalises
dumping by labelling food exports as food aid. This is a key concern
for us since Sub- Saharan Africa, home to the majority 34 LDCs, accounts
for around 60-65% of food aid flows and hence, it is imperative that
we anchor stronger disciplines on food aid in Nairobi".
"African farmers will be undermined if the draft agriculture
text stands during the WTO negotiations today. If the final text does
not distinguish emergency aid from food aid more broadly it will create
an enabling environment for dumping cheap food into local markets,
undermining local farmers," said Marie Clarke, Executive Director
of ActionAid USA.
The Agriculture text will be discussed with Members today, reports
said. The aim of the Text "is to assist Ministers to find common
ground, and in keeping with this aim they should be considered to
expire at the end of the Tenth Ministerial Conference". In its
current form, it is unlikely to be able to do that.