TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov08/01)
4 November 2008
Third World Network

Agriculture: No open-ended meetings for the time being
Published in SUNS #6582 dated 4 November 2008

Geneva, 3 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO has announced that he might not call any meetings of the full membership until about the week of 17 November.

In a communication to delegations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand told members that more time is needed for key delegations to undertake detailed analytical work on some of the current proposals.

According to trade officials, the Chair plans to hold his own consultations with these delegations from about 6 November afternoon to the evening of 11 November.

This would be followed by a pause due to the fact that the week of 10 November is "Geneva Week" of meetings where delegations without permanent missions in Geneva are briefed. Also, there will be an informal meeting of heads of delegations called by General Council Chair Ambassador Bruce Gosper of Australia on 12 November.

(At the last informal open-ended meeting of the full membership on 15 October, Falconer, reporting on his private "walks in the woods" consultations, had said that the consultations allowed negotiators to explore ideas and understand each others' concerns on six deadlocked issues, but with no movement yet away from their positions.)

According to trade officials, Ambassador Falconer said that he expects to hold a "Room E" meeting of a representative group of some 36 delegations or an informal meeting of the full membership at some stage, probably by the beginning of the week of 17 November.

Falconer also said that he has been consulting with groups of delegations on a number of issues, notably cotton, tariff simplification, tariff quota creation, sensitive products, and the special safeguard mechanism.

The Chair reported that his consultations on the Green Box have been sufficiently productive that it is not necessary to revert to it at this point.

He described the discussions as showing "encouraging engagement [with] genuine efforts to find new ideas or approaches."

He added however that "they have not got to a point where there is a discernible 'solution' that is in sight and can be written down. Indeed, some of the discussions have served to underline that once you actually get past the well-oiled standard positions, what you really need is analytical work and this is now coming onto the table."

"When we did that kind of work in the past, we found that it was crucial in helping members converge, but there was no substitute for actually going through the analysis precisely in order to have a well-informed discussion that gets past the cliches. Given all that, I think we should have another round and then take stock of where we are," said Falconer. +