try hijacking Doha agri-talks from core mandates
Published in SUNS #8689 dated 29 May 2018
Geneva, 28 May (D. Ravi Kanth) - The United States, Australia, and
Brazil attempted last week to hijack the Doha agriculture negotiations
from the core ministerial mandates, but the large majority of developing
countries, including China, India, Indonesia, and Egypt, rallied around
their central livelihood priorities at the World Trade Organization
to block the US-led effort, trade envoys told SUNS.
In other remarks at the meeting, India assailed the WTO secretariat
for organising a workshop on 8 June, without any mandate from members,
to discuss issues not listed in the Doha agri-mandates. The green
box subsidies provided by industrialized countries must be discussed
at the workshop, India said.
The new deputy Director-General of the WTO Alan Wolff from the United
States is the brain behind convening the workshop to change the agenda
according to US priorities, said a trade envoy who asked not to be
According to an African trade envoy, the new chair of the Doha agriculture
negotiations Ambassador John Deep Ford from Guyana is understood to
have said privately that the WTO Secretariat works for the US and
In a forceful statement delivered at the Doha agriculture negotiations
committee meeting last Thursday (24 May), Egypt, on behalf of the
African Group of countries, said the Rev.4 text or the revised draft
agriculture negotiating modalities of December 2008, must remain as
the basis for addressing the outstanding issues, including the reduction
commitments in the domestic support and cotton, said a trade envoy
who asked not to be quoted.
On behalf of the G33 group of developing and least developed countries,
Indonesia expressed grave concern that the permanent solution for
public stockholding programs for food security was not concluded as
per the Bali and Nairobi ministerial mandates at the WTO's eleventh
ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires last December.
Indonesia said there is no concerted effort to convene much-needed
dedicate d sessions on the permanent solution for public stockholding
(PSH) programs f or food security and the special safeguard mechanism
(SSM) for the developing countries, the envoy said.
India and China joined the G33 and the African Group to drive home
the message about their frustration over attempts to ignore the two
mandated issues - t he permanent solution for PSH and the SSM - of
the Bali and Nairobi ministerial mandates.
India severely criticized the WTO Secretariat over its role in organizing
a workshop on 8 June without seeking a mandate from the members.
India said the issues to be discussed at the workshop are not issues
raised by the developing countries.
New Delhi pressed for discussing at the workshop the green box subsidies
provided by the industrialized countries, and said there is clinching
evidence about the distortions they are causing in the global agricultural
Current estimates of the green box subsidies in the US and the European
Union suggest that both Washington and Brussels spend more than US$150
billion on these subsidies which are exempted from reduction commitments.
At the informal open-ended meeting of the Doha agriculture negotiating
body last Thursday, the Chair drove a nuanced message emphasizing
that he would soon convene the dedicated sessions on the permanent
solution for public stockholding programs for food security and the
special safeguard mechanism.
The Chair said he will proceed with dedicated sessions on PSH and
SSM as mandated in the Bali and Nairobi work programs.
He urged members to intensify consultations among themselves to finalize
the work program.
The Chair said the "difficult environment should not discourage
our engagement.... With hard work, dedication, flexibility on all
sides, we should be able to agree on how we proceed, close the gaps
on negotiating issues and this will certainly give ourselves a fair
chance of achieving an outcome at MC12 and beyond."
The large majority of developing countries, with few exceptions, urged
the Chair to convene dedicated sessions on the PSH and SSM as mandated
in the Nairobi work program.
At the meeting, the US circulated a two-page proposal, titled "WTO
Agriculture Negotiations Reset", urging members to "first
identify what challenges farmers face today that limit their ability
"These challenges should be discussed by members to determine
where there is commonality and opportunities to use trade to identify
The US admitted "some of these challenges [in agriculture] overlap
with other members".
It concurred with the Cairns Group of farm exporting countries led
by Australia that it "is open to exploring any ideas across all
pillars which help progress the reform objectives of Article 20 of
the Agreement on Agriculture."
The US said "market access is an area where no progress has been
made since the Uruguay Round, and protection remains substantially
higher than for industrial products", suggesting that the Cairns
Group also believes progress is achievable in market access.
The three priority areas for the US are (1) reducing market access
barriers, (2) reducing policy inefficiencies and distortions, and
(3) removing unfair non -tariff barriers.
The US, however, remained silent on how to reduce the trade-distorting
The US said countries must work according to the priorities of their
farmers, suggesting that it would go according to what its farmers
are demanding at this juncture.
Norway asked if countries decide to go by what their farmers are asking
the n will there be any commitment to negotiate multilateral commitments,
according to a participant at the meeting.
Norway sharply differed with the US assessment suggesting that the
work program must be credible.
Norway along with other G10 countries expressed sharp reservations
on giving priority to market access without addressing the non-trade
The G10 expressed concerns about addressing market access and domestic
support in agriculture without taking up market access for industrial
goods, and services.
Brazil, which has almost buried the G20 developing country coalition
that i t had founded along with India, China, and several other countries
in August 2003, has now rejoined its traditional allies such as Australia,
Argentina, and Chile among others in the Cairns Group.
At the meeting, Brazil said the domestic support and cotton are two
issues that must be discussed.
It said members should try for incremental outcomes. Brazil signalled
its intention to work with the US on new ideas for energizing the
agriculture negotiation s.
Australia, which was the first to speak on behalf of the Cairns Group
at the meeting, underscored the need for "addressing the inherent
risks to global agricultural trade and food security caused by the
accumulation of excessive domestic support entitlements."
The Cairns Group suggested that trade-distorting domestic support
by just nine major countries - Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the
European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States - will
reach an estimated USD1 trillion by 2030.
The Cairns Group said "the entitlements for trade-distorting
domestic support by just nine major Members under Article 6.3 and
6.4 of the Agreement alone will reach an estimated USD 1 trillion
"We must further our work to create new disciplines on domestic
support now , in order to prevent the continued accumulation of massive
trade-distorting support entitlements which could be used to devastating
effect on world markets in years to come," Australia said.
Effectively, the Cairns Group is attempting to change the goalposts
for domestic reduction commitments by moving away from the Rev.4 reduction
commitments of 2008.
Australia and Brazil did not even mention the Doha agriculture work
program, nor the previous ministerial mandates of 2005, 2013, and
To reinforce its support for the US, the Cairns Group said it "is
also open to exploring any ideas across all pillars which help progress
the reform objectives of Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture."
Almost in line with the US statement, the Cairns Group said "Market
Access is an area where no progress has been made since the Uruguay
Round, and protection remains substantially higher than for industrial
It maintained that "the inherent risks to global agricultural
trade and foo d security caused by the accumulation of excessive domestic
support entitlements" must be addressed.
The EU said its top priorities include the domestic support reduction
commitments and an outcome on the public stockholding programs for
In short, the US, Australia, and Brazil are working in concert to
hijack the Doha agriculture negotiations away from its core mandate
to their demands on market access.
But Australia and Brazil seem oblivious to the dangers of openly aligning
with the US on agriculture at a time when Washington is atrophying
market access for their agricultural products in China if the current
bilateral negotiations between the US and China are any indication.
According to a report in Financial Times on 28 May, "Washington
is pressing Beijing to enter into multi-year contracts to buy US agricultural
and energy imports as part of a broader trade deal aimed at reducing
the $337bn bilateral trade deficit with China."
"But the move could mean taking Chinese business away from key
US allies such as the EU, Australia, Brazil and Argentina, whose exports
could be hit by President Donald Trump's gambit."
Effectively, the US reset will have no value when it is finalizing
its market access gains at gunpoint.