TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept07/07)

19 September 2007

Agriculture Green Room meetings discuss special products

Below is a report of the agriculture talks at the WTO that started on market access in developing countries.  The focus was on special products.

This report was published in the SUNS on 13 Sept 2007.  It is reproduced here with the permission of the SUNS.  Any reproduction or re-circulation requires the permission of SUNS (

Best regards
Martin Khor

Talks focus on market access in developing countries

Published in SUNS #6322 dated 13 September 2007 

By Martin Khor (TWN), Geneva, 12 Sept 2007

Agriculture negotiations at the WTO have focused in the past two days on the demand by many developing countries for operationalising the "special products" concept and instrument in the outcome of the Doha negotiations.

The SP issue is an important part of the negotiations on the market access pillar of agriculture. The talks are taking place among 36 delegations in the Room E process, named after the small room in the WTO.

After a day's discussion on market access in developed countries, the Room E discussion proceeded to issues of market access in developing countries.

According to diplomatic sources, at the Room E meeting on Tuesday, officials of some developing countries said that ranges of tariff cuts for developing countries in the tiered formula (proposed in the modalities paper of Ambassador Crawford Falconer, chair of the agriculture negotiations) were too high.

Several members of the G33 developing-country grouping presented their response to the section on SP in the Falconer paper. In the past two weeks, the G33 has been holding a series of meetings at the expert and heads-of-delegation levels to coordinate their position for the current negotiations.

The G33 welcomed the Chair's proposal to use the group's revised list of indicators as the basis for discussing indicators for SPs, and urged other members to accept the list.

Several G33 members however stressed that the indicators were meant to "guide" the selection of SPs. They were concerned with demands to quantify concepts such as "significant proportion" that are used in the list of indicators because relevant factors such as size and agricultural conditions greatly differ among developing countries and thus to have a quantitative standard for indicators or "thresholds" would not be feasible.

These G33 members were also against the use of agreed "thresholds" in quantitative indicators to determine if products are eligible to be SPs, arguing that quantifying certain terms or having thresholds would erode the mandate that countries can self-designate their SPs.

On the Chair's proposal that the data for SP indicators be open to verification, some G33 members sought clarification on the proposed verification and expressed their concerns on whether the data provided would be open to challenge. They also stressed that some countries would have difficulties in providing data on some of the indicators for some products.

According to the sources, other WTO members including the United States and Canada took the contrary view that it was important that the indicators for SPs should be quantified and that the data can be verified.

The Tuesday meeting agreed to further discuss the question of data and quantification of indicators the following day.

According to trade diplomats, the Chair remarked that since there appeared to be difficulties involved in the use of indicators, a simpler approach might be the use of numbers. He also indicated that the number for special products could be higher than the highest number allowed for developed countries' sensitive products.

The "numbers" approach refers to the proposal that developing countries can choose a certain number of tariff lines as SPs. While this principle is not in dispute, there is a wide difference of view as to the number of products that can be chosen. The G33 proposal is that at least 20% of tariff lines can be designated as SPs, while a US paper has suggested that only 5 tariff lines can be selected as SPs.

The Room E meeting is also scheduled to discuss other market access issues such as special safeguard mechanism (SSM), tariff escalation, commodities, preference erosion and tropical products.

It will then move on to the other pillars - domestic support and export competition. Falconer told the media that he expected the discussion on domestic support to start later this week or early next week.

There will be an "open-ended" agriculture meeting for all members on Friday starting at 3.00 p. m. during which Falconer is expected to give a briefing on what has transpired at the Room E meetings, and allow members to share information and express their views on how the process is proceeding.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson made a statement to the European Parliament's Trade Committee, which warned developing countries not to go against the NAMA Chair's modalities draft.

He also gave his view that the WTO Director-General and the Chairs of the agriculture and NAMA negotiations are aiming to issue a "revised paper" in October as the basis for a final deal on modalities.

Mandelson was full of praise for both the agriculture and the NAMA chairs, for doing an "honest job" with their papers, which he said "distributed the pain fairly."

This is in contrast to the view of a large number of developing countries which stated (in WTO meetings at the end of July) that they could accept the use of the agriculture paper for the September negotiations, but criticised the NAMA paper in very strong terms for being biased and for prejudging the negotiations.

Mandelson told the EU Parliamentarians that "all parties must make clear that they are accepting both texts as their basis for negotiating... A small number of developing countries, part of the NAMA 11 grouping, have been highly critical of the NAMA paper.

"My view, and my message to them, is that expending valuable time and energy in trying to rally support against the paper (rather than engaging with the rest of the membership to get an agreement on its basis) will get us nowhere."

Mandelson's "advice" to developing countries on NAMA comes a few days after the attack by USTR Susan Schwab on a few dissident developing countries for allegedly blocking the WTO talks.