WTO Members Gear Up For Renewed Agriculture Negotiations
On 24 September, delegates to the WTO met informally to discuss the way forward in agriculture negotiations. The meeting was the first to follow a Framework Agreement reached at the end of July that effectively salvaged the Doha negotiations (see BRIDGES Weekly, 2 August 2004 ). The discussions on the agriculture section of the "August Decision" (see http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dda_e/draft_text_gc_dg_31july04_e.htm) had been particularly sensitive. After the intense negotiations in late July, the Geneva process is expected to pick up only slowly. The initial work will be based on a list of technical issues compiled by Tim Groser, who chairs the Committee on Agriculture (CoA) special (negotiating) session.
Chair Groser stakes out road ahead
At the 24 September informal meeting, Chair Groser suggested that Members focus their talks on technical issues over the next two months. These technical issues would build on the July Framework Agreement, and their further elaboration based on the political decisions taken. Chair Groser specified that he would serve as coordinator of the talks and that the meetings would be held both formally and informally, in different configurations. He stressed that Members needed to make progress on these technical issues, paving the ground for the next set of political decisions to be made. As such, this was not the time for Members to be commenting on the July Framework, but for them to take the decisions of the Framework forward. He suggested that Members begin by exploring technical issues under all three pillars. The EC and Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the G-10 (a group comprising food importing developed countries), felt non-trade concerns should also be considered. Chile intervened to comment on the limited expectations Members had for progress prior to the next WTO ministerial meeting, to be held in Hong Kong in December 2005.
Talks to focus on three pillars
The upcoming technical discussions on the July Framework — as outlined by Chair Groser — will focus on a number of specific issues under the three pillars of domestic support, export competition and market access. Under domestic support, Members will consider issues related to the review and clarification of the so called "green box" containing at most minimally trade distorting support. They will also explore the question of how to define "support for subsistence and resource-poor farmers" and the exemption of developing country support in this regard under the "amber box" of distorting support measures.
Under export competition, technical discussions will revolve around the concept of parallelism. In practical terms, this involves ways to ensure that not only direct export subsidies, but also export credits, export guarantees, and certain types of food aid and practices of state trading enterprises do not distort markets. For the time being, Members will focus on elaborating key definitions and other technical issues.
Regarding market access, Members will, among other things, revisit technical issues related to a "special safeguard mechanism," which developing countries can use to shield themselves against import surges.
Regular session to convene informal talks on net food-importers
In the regular session of the CoA on 23 September, Members considered a number of routine items involving the review of notifications by Members. Notifications that attracted particular attention included US food aid in the form of skim milk powder, with New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the EC asking whether the aid displaced commercial sales. Members further raised questions regarding the implications of the enlargement of the European Union, and how certain subsidies would be adjusted in the new members.
Also at the regular session, Members decided to hold informal consultations on net food-importing developing countries prior to their next meeting. The discussion of possible flanking measures for net food-importing countries is among a set of specific decisions on special and differential treatment (S&D). Under the August Decision, Members are to "expeditiously complete the review of all the outstanding Agreement-specific proposals and report to the General Council, with clear recommendations for a decision, by July 2005".
The next regular session of the CoA is scheduled for 18 November. The Committee will meet in special session on 8 October, with informals taking place on 6 and 7 October.