TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr08/02)
22 April 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Agriculture talks push ahead, plans for May 19 mini-Ministerial
Published in SUNS #6452 dated 10 April 2008

Geneva, 9 Apr (Martin Khor) -- Agriculture negotiations in the small-group Room E format have been going ahead this week, under time pressure for a second revised draft on modalities to be produced in time for a planned "Mini-Ministerial" meeting in the week starting 19 May.

From Monday, the chair of the Doha agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, has been convening Room E meetings (to which 36 delegations are invited) for a final reading through of his 8 February draft.

Falconer will issue another draft - the final one according to him. Yesterday, he said that he had "no idea" when it would come out. But the corridor talk at the WTO is that it will probably be given out after UNCTAD-XII (which will be in Accra on 20-25 April).

Several diplomats in Geneva expect that there will be an open-ended informal meeting shortly after the new text is issued to allow countries to air their views on it.

What happens after that is unclear. Some diplomats say that it depends on how the paper is received. There could possibly be another "Room E" meeting or two. But most people at the WTO believe that there will be a rush to begin a "horizontal process" in which both agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access) will be negotiated together.

The horizontal process is expected to start in the week of 12 May, with senior officials coming from capitals joining their Geneva Ambassadors. Most WTO delegates are in the dark as to how many WTO members will be invited, or who they are.

A good guess is that the members now invited to the Ambassadorial Green Room meetings convened by Pascal Lamy, the Director-General, will also be called into the horizontal process. The number of countries are less than that involved in the small-group "Room E" process for agriculture and NAMA.

The chair of the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada, is expected to produce his own revised NAMA text on the same day that Falconer issues his agriculture text.

Stephenson has been holding "confessionals", in which individual members or groupings convey to him their views on what they can accept or not accept in his new revised text.

According to trade officials, Stephenson will not be holding any more Room E meetings, unlike Falconer. Earlier, it had been expected that the NAMA chair would hold another Room E session on the most contentious and central topics, the tariff-reduction formula and flexibilities for developing countries.

However, Stephenson is expected to now hold an open-ended meeting on Monday 14 April and if necessary, another one on Wednesday. These are to be the last meetings before he issues his text, also after UNCTAD-XII.

At the agriculture Room E meetings, several issues have been discussed. First, the results of the meetings of the "Friends of the Chair" examining data on domestic consumption (to determine the classification of imports of sensitive products) were discussed.

There are 11 members in the data group. Six of them - the US, EU, Brazil, Japan, Canada and Australia - presented a paper at a Room E meeting on 4 April proposing a methodology for calculating the expansion of tariff quotas for sensitive products designated by importing countries.

The contention is whether these products should be designated at the 6-digit or 8-digit tariff level, and whether domestic consumption figures which are lacking at the 8-digit level can be substituted with import data used as a proxy, and if so, how this could be done. The Friends group has also been assessing whether such an approach would lead to an improvement or reduction in market access.

Although 6 of the 11 members of the Friends of the Chair agreed to a paper on the approach to "partial designation modalities for sensitive products", the other 5 members (Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, Argentina, and Uruguay) did not agree. Some of them criticized the paper at the Room E meeting, and they were joined by a few other countries as well.

According to some diplomats, Falconer feels that he has enough materials from the paper and the Room E discussion to proceed to draft a text on this issue. However, what his text will be and whether it will be accepted remains to be seen, since there is still significant disagreement on this issue.

Early this week, the Room E meeting also discussed the tariff-reduction tiered formula and related issues. According to a diplomat, the Falconer proposal (in his 8 February paper) on an average tariff cut of at least 54% for developed countries and of a maximum overall average of 36% for developing countries was not explicitly opposed.

At an earlier round of Room E meetings, G10 countries (Japan, Switzerland, etc) and the EU had criticized the 54% proposal. Whether their silence on this at this week's meeting means that they can now accept this, or whether they are waiting to take up this topic at the horizontal process is not known, according to the diplomat.

The Room E meeting on Wednesday morning also discussed the treatment of sensitive products for developing countries. That developing countries can have a higher percentage of sensitive products (compared to developed countries) was not disputed.

Para 73 of the 8 February paper states that developing countries shall have the right to designate up to one-third more of tariff lines as sensitive products, while Para 72 states that developed countries can designate up to [4] [6] percent of [dutiable] tariff lines as sensitive products, while those members having over 30% of tariff lines in the top band of the formula can have [6] [8] per cent designated as sensitive products.

The Room E meeting discussed various types of treatment for developing countries which do not have tariff rate quotas for their sensitive products, such as adopting full formula cuts with longer implementation periods for those products with no TRQ, or less than formula cuts but implementation periods of lesser duration.

[Sensitive products are to enjoy less than the full formula cuts (one-third, half or two-thirds) but as compensation there should be an increase in the tariff quotas for these products.]

The Room E meeting is also to discuss tariff simplification and tariff escalation on Wednesday afternoon, as well as Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM). The G33 has prepared a paper with corrections to their earlier proposal to amend the Chair's 8 February text, as well as a note on SP and SSM reiterating their positions.

The Room E meeting is also expected to discuss the Green Box issue in domestic support on Wednesday afternoon, and other aspects of domestic support thereafter.

Falconer intends to finish discussion on all outstanding aspects of market access, domestic support and export competition by the end of this week. +