Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr15/10)
30 April 2015
Third World Network
Agriculture: Members still far from convergence on key issues,
Published in SUNS #8011 dated 28 April 2015
Geneva, 27 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- The Doha trade talks and efforts to
reach an accord on a post-Bali work programme are stuck on agriculture
issues of domestic support and market access, with members standing
firm on their positions and are a "long way" to meet the
July deadline, the Chair of the agriculture negotiations said on 24
In his report at an informal meeting of the Special Session of the
Agriculture Committee, Chairperson Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand
gave a rather sombre assessment of his latest round of consultations
held this month, and said that in key areas "we are, as of yet,
far from convergence on certain threshold issues."
According to trade officials, the Chair's consultations had focused
on key issues under the domestic support, market access, and export
competition pillars, including on the special safeguard mechanism,
de minimis and blue box support, public stockholding for food security
purposes, and cotton.
The WTO Director-General has been pushing for a roadmap for the post-Bali
work programme by end of July and completing the Doha Round by end
of 2015 in time for the Nairobi Ministerial Conference.
Adank told the informal agriculture meeting last Friday that the lack
of convergence on certain threshold issues in key areas of agriculture
was "inhibiting progress on other issues".
"The intensive process in which we have been engaged has still
not seen delegations move from entrenched positions or find acceptable
ways around them. Doing so is the urgent challenge that is still ahead
According to trade officials, among the threshold issues cited by
Ambassador Adank were, possible spending caps on overall trade-distorting
support (OTDS) and the coverage and extent of any reductions in existing
limits on de minimis support, under the domestic support pillar; the
overall approach to be taken on tariff reductions, under the market
access pillar; the export competition pillar; and public stockholding
programs for food security.
Participants in these talks said that the US, EU and other developed
countries want, with heavily subsidised agriculture (though disguised
in various ways), a "calibration" in the market access pillar
and to resile from the 2008 Rev. 4 revised draft modalities.
Many developing countries, the very large majority of the WTO membership,
have on the other hand demanded a balanced outcome based on the 2008
Rev. 4 draft modalities document.
At Friday's meeting, differences among members came into sharp focus
when the United States reiterated its demand that all members (meaning
mainly China, India and other large developing countries) make contributions
(thus opening their markets to the heavily subsidised exports of US
and European agri-export corporations).
Several other developed countries spoke about the need for re-calibration
in the market access pillar, with a more simplified approach to reduction
[Such an approach has been put forward by Argentina and Paraguay.
Norway reportedly has presented an informal paper identical to the
Paraguay one, according to some participants. Research work done at
the South Centre bring out that when all elements are taken into account,
the Paraguay paper (as the Norwegian one) will imply that on average
developing countries will cut tariffs more than the developed, a reverse
S&D treatment so to say. SUNS]
According to trade officials, Brazil (for the G-20), Indonesia (for
the G-33), India, South Africa, the Philippines, Kenya, Lesotho (for
the African Group), Barbados (for the African, Caribbean and Pacific
group) and the Dominican Republic (for the small and vulnerable economies
group) underlined the importance of maintaining the 2008 Rev. 4 text
as the basis for concluding the agriculture negotiations.
In his statement at the informal meeting, the Chair said that since
the previous informal meeting on 20 March, he had intensified his
consultations on key aspects of the negotiations.
Ambassador Adank said, "I have to be frank with you: my assessment
today is a sombre one. We are a long way from where we should be given
the July deadline. In key areas we are, as yet, far from convergence
on certain threshold issues. This in turn inhibits progress on other
issues. The intensive process in which we have been engaged has still
not seen delegations move from entrenched positions or find acceptable
ways around them. Doing so is the urgent challenge that is still ahead
Reporting on his consultations in each of the key areas, the Chair
said in domestic support it has become clear in the consultations
that the nature and extent of disciplines on the Overall Trade Distorting
Support (OTDS) is likely to be a key determinant of the possible outcomes
across this pillar as a whole.
This has in fact become one of the threshold issues, he said, adding
that the core of the issue is whether numerical OTDS limits should
apply to all Members, with appropriate Special and Differential treatment,
or whether, as in Rev. 4, there should be an exemption for Recently-Acceded
"This question arouses strongly divergent views. Efforts have
been made to try to find a way to reconcile the opposing positions,
for example, by encouraging parties to look for, or offer up, compensatory
adjustments elsewhere, but so far no convergence is in sight. There
is a strong view on the part of a large number of delegations that
efforts to resolve these issues must continue given the consequences
if that proves impossible."
Another key issue is the treatment of de minimis support, where the
question is the coverage and extent of any reductions in existing
limits. This is seen as a critical issue by many, considering increasing
current, as well as potential, use of de minimis support, said the
Adank said the point was also made, though, that de minimis subsidies
in developing countries serve a different purpose from those used
by developed countries. Developing Members without AMS or with relatively
low AMS consider de minimis an essential tool for them in the absence
of other possibilities, while others, mostly exporters, would like
to see the de minimis entitlements reduced and capped by the OTDS,
especially as they grow with the value of production.
[Both the issue of RAMs' contributions, and de minimis support are
being pushed by the US, with an eye to hitting China and India among
others, so as to secure markets for US agri-exports in these large
Other developed participants have stated that it would be hard to
envisage reducing their de minimis in the absence of progress elsewhere
in agriculture and in NAMA. While here again there have been efforts
to find ways forward, such as a suggestion to focus on non-product-specific
de minimis, there is no convergence on the basic question.
Given these unresolved issues, discussions on other areas have not
yet gone as deep as they need to go, said Ambassador Adank, noting
that the issue of product-specific limits is one such case.
These limits were seen as important by many, for some more important
than the AMS, but there is little clarity so far on what limits could
be agreed and how they would be applied.
The same is true of the AMS, which was also considered important by
many. Some felt it should still be the main focus of reduction, while
others saw it as relatively less important than the OTDS or product-specific
limits. Several members stressed the importance of a tiered formula
for AMS cuts. Some others indicated the possibility of accepting this
but not with the level of cuts envisaged in Rev 4.
There appeared to be a widely-shared readiness to discuss what was
doable in this connection and possibly to re-calibrate as necessary,
although here again this issue appears to bound up with some of the
broader threshold issues - another reason why seeking progress on
those issues is so crucial.
According to the Chair, the discussion of the Blue Box was also rather
limited, though there was a clear divergence between those delegations
who saw it as useful for the reform process to maintain it and those
who argued for eliminating it, leaving AMS as the sole future base
for what otherwise would have been Blue Box payments.
The situation in market access is quite similar to domestic support,
where there is at least one major threshold issue that remains unresolved
and that is impeding progress in other areas, said the Chair.
Broadly speaking there are two main positions: those delegations who
prefer a tiered formula approach as in Rev. 4 and those who reject
this approach, of whom many favour an alternative based on average
cuts. Some who do not favour Rev. 4 have yet to be very clear about
their preferred approach and we need this clarification urgently.
The inputs from Paraguay and Argentina in particular address the question
of the overall modalities for tariff reduction. The Paraguay non-paper
describes a hybrid approach for agriculture market access, combining
average cuts and additional elements, including a request/offer stage.
Eight additional elements are seen as needing to be addressed in order
to deliver a meaningful outcome: average tariff reductions, minimum
tariff reductions by line, tariff peaks, TRQs, escalation, tariff
simplification, tropical products and implementation periods. The
contribution from Argentina focuses on a request/offer process as
the main tariff reduction modality.
The Chair reported that reactions to these inputs has been mixed.
Some Members considered that an average cut approach could be interesting,
each expressing specific preferences on what additional elements would
be needed for a balanced outcome. However, a range of concerns was
also registered, including safeguards, the treatment of S&D and
RAMs, and consistency with the 2004 framework and the Hong Kong Ministerial
Few saw a stand-alone request/offer process as realistic. However,
many were supportive of the idea of request-offer as a supplement
to other tariff reduction modalities. Some had lingering doubts about
its complexity, the time it would consume and whether it would disadvantage
The question of safeguards continues to be a difficult one, said Ambassador
Adank, noting that the G33 has made two submissions concerning the
proposed SSM, and that in his consultations they reiterated the importance
they attach to it.
"The discussion was handicapped by differing views on whether
any outcome on safeguards would need to be calibrated against the
level of ambition in the market access pillar, or whether it should
be approached as a stand-alone issue. There nonetheless were some
indications of willingness to seek compromise."
A few Members suggested that existing safeguard provisions in the
AoA (Agreement on Agriculture) could be a good basis for discussions
on an SSM. Others underlined the importance of eliminating the SSG
(special safeguard) for developed countries, as envisaged in Rev 4.
"Again there is a clear need for members on all sides to think
about what is realistic in this area in current circumstances,"
said Ambassador Adank.
On export competition, the Chair reported that there is a general
consensus that this pillar remains a key priority of the negotiations,
as reflected in the Bali Ministerial Declaration, and that an outcome
on this pillar should be envisaged in parallel with the other areas
in the negotiations.
However, if many members support an immediate commitment within the
July work programme to deliver on this pillar by the 10th Ministerial
Conference as a first building block in constructing a post-Bali work
programme, some other Members flagged their opposition to an early
harvest on export competition only.
On substance, the Chair said, Members agree on the level of ambition
to be reached in the final outcome, i. e. the parallel elimination
of all forms of export subsidies and disciplines on all export measures
with equivalent effect, which has been regularly reaffirmed during
the last ten years.
Many Members consider that the Rev. 4 draft modalities effectively
constitute an appropriate outcome in this regard but some have expressed
an interest in adjusting some sections of this text - but it remains
unclear in a number of cases exactly what would be suggested here.
Several participants insisted on the importance to preserve the special
and differential treatment provisions, in particular for LDCs and
NFIDCs (net food importing developing countries), and Cuba has also
reintroduced its proposal from 2010 in relation to export credits.
As regards the phasing-out timetable for all forms of export subsidies,
the Chair reported that most members favour a quick, if not immediate,
implementation but a couple of participants asked for some time to
adapt domestically. Different views were also expressed as regards
the phasing-out timetable for export subsidies granted by developing
countries under article 9.4 of the Agreement on Agriculture.
Ambassador Adank also noted that two specific themes were raised under
"other issues": export restrictions and prohibitions, and
GIs (geographical indications).
On export restrictions, he said, importing Members and some others
linked the issue to food security objectives and argued in favour
of additional disciplines. Others argued that the "import"
side of agricultural trade was still subject to heavy distortions
and an outcome was required on such issues prior to taking up the
"export" side and that in any case the issue was already
under consideration in the regular Agriculture Committee.
A couple of Members saw a link between the negotiations on agriculture
and the issue of Geographical Indications. This view was strongly
opposed by others. There appeared to be agreement that, in any event,
the appropriate forum to discuss GIs was in the TRIPS context.
On his consultations on the issue of cotton, the Chair underlined
that cotton is an important cross-cutting issue which Ministers have
regularly committed to address ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically.
The meeting saw some useful exchanges and discussions, including on
data. One Member noted that the situation has dramatically changed
in the world cotton market and insisted on the need to adopt a new
approach in the negotiations to ensure that all Members, both developed
and developing, effectively contribute to the final outcome.
Some other Members noted their support for the Rev. 4 draft modalities
as reflected in the Bali Cotton Decision and reiterated the need to
clearly differentiate between developed and developing Members.
Following a suggestion by the C-4 (Cotton-4 countries) which was widely
supported, the Chair said that he intends to pursue actively the discussions
on cotton in the coming months, in particular at a technical level,
with a view to consider possible ways forward in a focused manner.
On the issue of Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes, which
is under a separate, dedicated track, the Chair reported that despite
more active engagement among delegations, "we have yet to move
into focused work on solutions."
The proponents have primarily referred to their original proposal
of November 2012 and clarified that they were seeking policy space
through amended rules, although the Chair said he saw some opening
from them to refer to other potential ideas that they circulated prior
The non-proponents have identified two broad concerns relating respectively
to the architecture of the AoA through any potential transfer of market
price support to the Green Box, and unintended market consequences
of such public stockholding programmes for other Members.
"I also saw some hints in the discussions that the current interim
solution adopted at Bali may also assist the search of a permanent
solution, especially by offering guidance on the issue of safeguards."
Ambassador Adank told delegations: "I repeat my advice firstly
to keep in mind the collective mandate, that is to find a permanent
solution, and secondly to move beyond the assertion of well-stated
positions. It's high time that negotiating energies are aimed at identifying
concrete ideas and solutions so as to meet the timing that we all
set for ourselves to find a permanent solution. I will of course pursue
these consultations and convene another Dedicated Session at an appropriate
In concluding his report, the Chair said that there is an urgent need
to move from repeating positions to working for solutions.
"There have been signs that a number of delegations are trying
to do this, and I encourage them - and everyone else - to continue.
However there is no escaping the fact that any possible progress towards
convergence is being seriously impeded by the standoff among some
major players over the threshold issues I have mentioned."
They need to find ways to bridge the gaps between them and everyone
needs to help as much as they can to enable this, he added.
VIEWS OF MEMBERS
According to trade officials, Australia (for the Cairns Group) said
that despite efforts to engage, there was "little or no progress
made in any areas", while Chinese Taipei said time was "definitely
not on our side."
Canada shared the serious concerns expressed by the Chair, especially
on the issue of domestic support. It said that the centrality of the
issue of domestic support cannot be overestimated.
Consultations have not moved members closer to an outcome, it said,
adding that in fact, it is difficult to see a clear path forward.
According to trade officials, Canada said it was difficult for others
to find negotiating space for a deal as long as the two largest trading
members - the United States and China - were unable to find a "zone"
for agreement on some of the threshold issues, notably domestic support.
The point is not to lay blame but to make an honest assessment, it
Brazil (on behalf of the G20) said that agriculture is the centrepiece
for an outcome on Doha, and that the Rev. 4 text remains the basis
of the negotiations.
On behalf of itself, Brazil said that domestic support has a strong
distortive effect on trade in agricultural products, which are practically
indistinguishable from export subsidies.
Indonesia (on behalf of the G-33) reiterated the importance of its
proposals on Special Products (SP), Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM)
and on food security, saying that these are critical outcomes for
According to Indonesia, the group's proposal on public stockholding
for food security purposes is a legitimate basis for discussions on
a permanent solution. It expressed regret that during the consultations,
some members still questioned the mandate for these negotiations.
It is important to preserve the hard-won gains under the Rev. 4 text,
According to trade officials, the US said that it agreed with the
Chair's sombre assessment. The US is ready to contribute to an outcome
but it is not realistic to ask it and a few select members to make
real contributions and carry the load of the round alone.
According to the US, real outcomes are needed on market access in
exchange for cuts in domestic support, and emerging markets have to
carry their weight in the negotiations commensurate with their bigger
role in the world economy.
According to trade officials, the US said that in order to find a
way forward, solutions must be simple and fair. It will also require
a re-calibration of expectations.
The US said it was "deeply disappointed" that its original
aspirations for the Doha Round have not been realised but that this
"can't be wished away" and that there was a need to adapt
collective expectations or face the failure of Doha.
On the other hand, Brazil said there was a limit to this adjusting
ambitions and that the whole exercise "ceases to make sense"
below this limit, while Argentina said it was concerned that the adjustment
process downward on market access "seems to be leading us to
a zero result or cosmetic improvements" rather than reducing
barriers to farm trade.
According to trade officials, India underlined that the alternative
proposals tabled by some members have not received much support. It
had rejected these proposals as the basis for future negotiations.
Since time is short, the best way forward for a modalities-like work
programme is to concentrate on the Rev. 4 text as the basis, said
Referring to talk about re-calibration (of ambition), India said that
the re-calibration of one member appears to be raising the ambitions
of others. It warned against any attempts to dilute the S&D principles
which are central to any outcome.
India said it supports the idea of an early harvest on LDC issues
and cotton. The SSM proposal is critical to rebalancing elements of
existing inequalities. Hence, it sees the SSM and SP proposals as
critical outcomes for the Nairobi ministerial conference (this coming
On public stockholding for food security purposes, India said that
the G-33 proposal is the only credible proposal on the table so far.
An outcome on this is critical for the Nairobi conference.
The EU said that it was "clear the discussions haven't moved
so far" on domestic support, adding that some developed country
members had "no appetite for an ambitious outcome" in this
area. The best members can hope for is a round that respects current
policies, provides adequate policy space and seeks to avoid excessive
increases in support.
According to the EU, the approach on market access must mirror the
direction on domestic support. There should be a much simpler approach.
Most promising is the average tariff cut approach, and the Paraguay
paper provides a useful start.
On export competition, the EU said that the work done so far provides
a good basis.
On public stockholding for food security purposes, it said that a
solution that pushes these programmes into the green box will not
fly with many members including the EU.
Looking at the text that members already have, the EU said that the
interim peace clause agreed to at Bali could be used as a basis, with
some improvements being made to make it more user-friendly and avoid
According to trade officials, China said that it still firmly believes
that the Rev. 4 text is the only reasonable and practical basis for
pushing forward the negotiations towards a successful conclusion.
Referring to suggestions by some on lowering the ambition of the negotiations,
China believed that there should be a proportionate and parallel adjustment,
if that is the case.
It rejected any re-calibration that gives more to members in areas
which it believes are undoable for others.
Any requirement that China do more beyond what is in the Rev. 4 text
is unacceptable. It is also not in line with the mandate that we have
agreed to for these negotiations for China to accept a cap on OTDS.
No government would make any such decision on capping without knowing
what their future needs are, it added.
According to trade officials, Lesotho (on behalf of the African Group)
said it continues to recognise Rev. 4 as the basis for the negotiations.
Food security is a critical issue for most African countries, it added.
Barbados (on behalf of the ACP) underscored the importance of Rev.
4 as the basis for concluding the agriculture negotiations. The group
is not convinced that the alternatives (that have been proposed) are
superior and that they address the concerns of all members. +