TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar08/17)
19 March 2008
Third World Network

Agriculture: Next meeting delayed, probably till 31 March
Published in SUNS #6436 dated 17 March 2008

By Martin Khor, Geneva, 14 Mar 2008

The WTO's agriculture negotiations at multilateral level will be delayed probably till 31 March, due to the need for further discussions among a small group working on data related to sensitive products.

This was revealed by Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, chair of the Doha negotiations on agriculture, when talking to journalists after a open-ended agriculture meeting at the WTO today (14 March).

Falconer said that a Room E meeting (which involves 37 delegations) is planned for the week starting 31 March, to discuss the outcome of the discussion of the "data group" on the sensitive products issue.

The group is trying to obtain and assess data of domestic consumption in relation to products that are to be imported, to ascertain the increases of volumes of products to be imported under the expansion of tariff rate quota of products designated as "sensitive products" (that are allowed to be subjected to more lenient tariff cuts).

He expects that this issue would occupy more than 3 or 4 days in Room E. If the "data group" finishes its work earlier, the Room E could be convened earlier, on 27 or 28 March.

After the discussion on sensitive products, Falconer intends the Room E process to continue with discussions on other topics. He mentioned tropical products and tariff escalation as requiring more technical discussions (so that he can have material to revise his modalities paper).

Asked about the domestic support issue, he said "I am looking for progress here as well especially on cotton if we can find it, but most of the text can be done at horizontal level as clear choices for senior officials or Ministers to make."

Asked whether he could ask members if they agree to "split down the middle" the range of cuts in overall trade distorting domestic support (as he had done, unsuccessfully, for the ranges in the tariff reduction formula), Falconer replied: "Wait and see. Maybe I will."

As for the timing for his revised text to be issued, this would have to depend on how the talks go. He could not give any date.

Falconer said that he was aware that "we have little time left" to complete the negotiations. However, the process could not be rushed "at the price of people's interests being bulldozed... This needs consensus and I as the Chair respect this."

According to a trade official, at the meeting, Falconer told the members that the "data group" (of about 11 members that have import and export interests) would have to talk further among themselves. The Room E process would then have to be postponed to after Easter.

The United States informed the meeting that the "data group" had been obtaining data and would continue their work over this weekend and after. Australia, another member of the group, said the group was working hard but it was not sure if it could provide results by Easter.

The EU was the only member that set out its deadlines for the negotiations. It said that it was holding consultations in various formats and it hoped that issues would be resolved quickly. The EU added that the next draft of the Chair should be issued soon, together with the NAMA draft so that the horizontal process should start together with "breakout groups" after Easter, and that modalities can be completed by the end of April and the whole Round concluded by the end of the year. +