TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr08/12)
24 April 2008
Third World Network

Agriculture: Another meet on 30 April, Chair warns of delay in revising text
Published in SUNS #6460 dated 22 April 2008 

Geneva, 21 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO said Friday that he would call another meeting on 30 April, in response to requests from members working on sensitive products, and tropical and preference products for more time to finish their work. But he cautioned that this would delay his next revision of the draft modalities text, previously envisaged for end April.

Chairman Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand made this announcement at an informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee on Friday, which had been adjourned from Tuesday.

(The additional time that members will now be using to work on sensitive products, and tropical and preference products appears likely to further delay not only Falconer's issuing of his revised text but also the process that is eventually to result in a mini-Ministerial which media reports have been suggesting would take place in the week of 19 May.

(Media reports from Accra, Ghana - where the UNCTAD-XII conference is taking place - have quoted WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy as saying at a press conference there on Sunday that a breakthrough in the Doha negotiations was achievable in the coming few weeks. According to these reports, Lamy was of the view that if there were revised compromise texts on agriculture subsidies, agriculture tariffs and NAMA tariffs by the end of April, or the very beginning of May, a ministerial meeting could take place by the end of May.)

According to trade officials, members working on compromises on sensitive products, and tropical products and products with preferences reported at the informal meeting Friday that they are making good progress and asked for more time to finish their work.

Those involved in the negotiations on tropical and preference products, in particular, urged Falconer not to circulate a revised draft modalities text until they have been able to present the outcome to the rest of the membership, and then as input into the next draft. They said that they would not be able to finish before the end of this week (25 April).

Trade officials said that in response, Falconer said that he would call another meeting on 30 April, or earlier, if those members finish their work sooner (at this stage he did not know whether it would be an open-ended or small group meeting). He however cautioned that this would delay his next revision of the draft modalities, because he would not be able to draft it "in 48 hours".

Trade officials added that the period would also be used by a number of countries to sort out some differences on a proposed compromise method of estimating domestic consumption, which will be used to calculate the size of tariff quotas on sensitive products.

"Their [members'] view was overwhelmingly that they need more time ... because they are indeed making progress they need a bit more time to make sure that their progress works," Falconer told journalists after the informal meeting, adding that "they couldn't have been clearer, and no one dissented." (see below).

He also told journalists that he did not consider the request for more time on the sensitive products' proposal to be negative. "It's not a rejection. It's 'you've taken care of your problems, now take care of mine'."

In response to some delegations asking for an explanation of a paper on possible partial designation modalities for sensitive products issued on 4 April by six countries - Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Japan and the US - the six countries on Friday circulated a new 14-page informal explanatory note.

(The informal explanatory note describes the concept of partial designation as being the process whereby domestic consumption for a product category is allocated individual tariff lines within that product category. The idea is that when individual tariff lines are selected as sensitive, the domestic consumption volume allocated to those lines would become part of the base for tariff quota expansion for the product category. The note said that a methodology for allocating domestic consumption to individual tariff lines is needed because domestic consumption data normally exists at the product category level, not at the tariff line level.

(According to the explanatory note, the methodology contained in the possible partial designation modalities document is essentially the two-step trade-weighted methodology included in para 3a and 3b of Annex C of the Chair's revised draft modalities text. In Step One, the domestic consumption for the product category is normally allocated to the HS6 level based on each HS6's share of world trade in value terms. In Step Two, the HS6 proxy is allocated to 8 digit level tariff lines based on each line's share of the member's trade in value terms. The proposed template for this two-step approach is outlined in Attachment D of the original document.

(The explanatory note goes on to explain in detail what domestic consumption for the product category means, calculation of domestic consumption for "other dairy" products, calculation of domestic consumption for fruit and vegetables, core and non-core tariff lines, use of coefficients, sub-categorization of product categories, sub-allocation of tariff quotas, tariff quota fill and the issue of transparency.)

According to trade officials, delegations said that they would need to study it.

The six countries, with the US speaking on their behalf, presented an explanation of their proposal and referred to some differences that they still have among themselves on a few of the details.

According to trade officials, one difficulty is in relation to the meaning of "a product" and how a tariff quota relates to it. The proposal mainly envisages products being handled in broad categories (wheat, beef, etc). Each of these could include a range of products ranging from raw materials (such as wheat grains) to highly processed products (such as biscuits and bread). In a very limited number of cases, these categories (two per country) could be divided into two sub-categories.

Trade officials said that opinions differ - even among the six countries - on whether that would allow separate quotas on each of the two sub-categories or whether a single quota should cover both.

A group of exporters (with Uruguay speaking on their behalf) - and not part of the six-country group - said that the proposed method would reduce access if separate quotas are allowed on each sub-category and argued for a single quota to cover the whole broader category. This group included Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand and Uruguay.

Another issue raised concerned transparency and predictability. According to trade officials, several countries said that they would have to see countries' domestic consumption data in order to assess what the impact might be on their export products.

Argentina also asked for flexibilities designed for specific situations to identify explicitly which products and which countries are involved.

Several countries wanted to add or remove products from the preliminary list that the six countries have produced. Several (including the G10) said that they want more time to study the proposal.

The six countries said that they had already scheduled consultations this week and will continue to consult among themselves and with others in order to clarify issues and resolve differences.

With regards to tropical and preference products, the Tropical Products Group (Costa Rica speaking on their behalf) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group (Mauritius speaking) said that they were having fruitful discussions with importing developed countries, and reported fruitful progress in many cases.

They asked for more time to complete their discussions and said that they would oppose any "partial" or "half-baked" revised draft modalities text.

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists after the meeting, Falconer said: "Their [members'] view was overwhelmingly they need more time... because they are indeed making progress they need a bit more time to make sure that their progress works."

Falconer said that the members discussing tropical and preference products made it clear that while they are having discussions, they did not want him to have a meeting that he was originally scheduling for this week, because they are not in a position to have anything to report by then.

Falconer further said that he did not know when they will conclude the discussions to their satisfaction, adding that they were equally clear that they did not want a revised text coming out before they have a chance to bring the discussions - if they prove to be as positive as they think they are - back to the multilateral process and to have it concluded before there is any revised text from him.

According to Falconer, there was no dissent from the members from that view. It was the same for the sensitive product discussions.

Saying that he is scheduling a meeting on 30 April on the assumption that sufficient progress has been made by the end of this week or over the weekend thereafter, Falconer cautioned that if there is nothing positive to report, there would be no point having a meeting on 30 April.

He said that he will have to draw his own conclusions about what he will do in light of it, noting that he cannot be expected to produce a text in 48 hours. He said that he could not see how you get any earlier than the week of 5 May at the earliest.

"All of this is anyway somewhat hypothetical because it is dependent on there being sufficient progress on those issues by the middle of next week (week of 21 April) for even that scenario that I described to unfold," Falconer told journalists. +