TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec08/03)
5 December 2008
Third World Network

Agriculture: There has been "no tsunami of flexibilities", says Chair
Published in SUNS #6597 dated 25 November 2008

Geneva, 24 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- No new meaningful flexibilities have emerged during his consultations (with small groups of members), the Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, said Friday.

The Chair was reporting to the full membership, at an informal meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee, on his "walks in the woods" consultations held during the week.

He also outlined his plans for the week 24-28 November (which he later described to the media as a "make-or-break week"), and gave members an opportunity to announce new flexibilities. According to trade officials, no one did.

Speaking to journalists after the open-ended informal meeting, Falconer said that there has been "no tsunami of flexibilities forthcoming despite the earthquake in Washington", in reference to the G-20 leaders' summit on the global financial crisis on 14-15 November, where the leaders said they would strive to agree modalities this year.

According to trade officials, the Chair told the meeting of the full membership that the week's consultations have helped confirm at least some unwritten understandings reached when Ministers came in July, but no new meaningful flexibilities have emerged.

The Chair informed members that he had consulted on preference erosion (for products that do not overlap with the tropical products list), domestic support and export competition.

On preference erosion, the Chair said that his main objective was to seek confirmation that the countries involved in consultations among themselves had reached some kind of understanding in July.

According to trade officials, Falconer said that they told him that they had reached an understanding. But they declined to give him a specific list of products, preferring to wait until the whole agriculture package is clearer.

The Chair said that the countries involved were the developing countries enjoying preferences and the major importing markets -- the EU and US.

One of the points that did emerge, Falconer said, was that the "default" period for cutting tariffs would be the period for developing countries.

On domestic support, Ambassador Falconer said that he wanted a clearer view of whether those countries involved in the July consultations still stood by what they had tentatively agreed, and to confirm what the tentative agreement was.

According to trade officials, the subjects covered were overall trade-distorting domestic support, Amber Box (AMS) support, the Blue Box and de minimis support.

The Chair said that he did not hear anything new, but the discussion was not negative in the way that some press reports had suggested.

On the issue of export competition, the consultations covered all elements, including export prohibitions, said Falconer, again with the aim of confirming his understanding of what had been agreed in July.

Broadly, positions had not changed among those involved in the July discussions, while those who were not involved sought clarification rather than reject the ideas, the Chair said.

The Chair announced that he would continue his consultations on tariff simplification, sensitive products and the creation of new tariff quotas, other areas of market access (to confirm understandings reached in July), tropical products, the Green Box (provisions dealing with developing countries' purchases for food security stocks), special products, the special safeguard mechanism and cotton.

He said that he would hold another informal meeting of the full membership on 28 November, and possibly another meeting during the week. Beyond that, he said that he would not make any predictions.

According to trade officials, there were no interventions at the informal meeting.

Asked after the informal meeting if there had been any movement since his last open-ended meeting five days earlier (on 17 November), Falconer said "five days further on and no further advance."

"There is no tsunami of flexibilities forthcoming despite the earthquake in Washington".

In his view, the reality is that members have got pretty much till the end of next week (week of 24 November) to provide the flexibility that so far they haven't shown.

Asked when he would be issuing a revised text, Falconer said that "a new text which represents convergence, [and] which is substantively different, is contingent on them (members) changing their position." He added that the members have not changed their position.

"One would hope that given that a week has past and no material flexibility has been shown, that you would see it next week (week of 24 November)," he said.

He thought that "next week (the week of 24 November) is pretty much a make-or-break week."