Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar17/21)
31 March 2017
Third World Network
Prospects for credible outcomes at Buenos Aires bleak
Published in SUNS #8434 dated 31 March 2017
Geneva, 30 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) - Efforts are currently underway to
nominate Kenya's trade envoy Ambassador Stephen Ndung'u Karau as the
chair of the Doha agriculture negotiating body, with the African Group,
at the behest of some powerful developed and South American countries,
apparently asking Ambassador Karau to chair the Special Session on
agriculture to break the current impasse.
That impasse arose after major industrialized countries - the European
Union and Canada with their allies - blocked the nomination of Ms
Irene B. K. Young of Hong Kong (China) on grounds of affiliation to
The Asian Group had proposed Ms. Young to chair the Special Session
The Asian Group's nomination was blocked, following sustained attempts
by major developed and some developing countries to deny a credible
permanent solution for public stockholding programs at the World Trade
Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later
this year, trade envoys told SUNS.
Ms Young, who is currently the chair for the WTO Trade Policy Review
Body, was nominated by the Asian Group of developing countries on
grounds that the chair for the Doha negotiating body on agriculture
ought to be from a developing country.
In a bid to stall Ms Young's appointment, the developed and a few
developing countries in South America first proposed Uruguay's ambassador
Gustavo Miguel Vanerio Balbela.
Despite Uruguay being a strong member of the Cairns Group of farm
exporting countries, the industrialized countries insisted that the
Uruguay ambassador would be a good choice instead of the Asian Group's
But, for some inexplicable reasons, Ambassador Balbela withdrew from
Subsequently, Ambassador Balbela's sponsors opted for Mexico's new
trade envoy Ambassador Roberto Zapata Barradas.
They argued that Ambassador Barradas is not affiliated to any coalition
or country despite Mexico's close proximity to major industrialized
When the Asian Group remained firm on its choice, some powerful developed
and a few South American countries approached Morocco to nominate
an African candidate to chair the Doha agriculture negotiating body,
according to trade envoys familiar with the development.
Morocco, which is the coordinator for the African Group, asked Ambassador
Karau of Kenya whether he would be willing to chair the Doha agriculture
Special Session knowing full well that Ambassador Karau is currently
chairing the negotiating body for improving various provisions in
the Dispute Settlement Understanding.
At a time when the Doha agriculture negotiating body is tasked with
finding the permanent solution for food security and the special safeguard
mechanism at the WTO's eleventh ministerial conference, the African
choice of Ambassador Karau has come as a surprise, said several trade
envoys familiar with the development.
"Unfortunately, Ambassador Karau's nomination has revived the
ugly memories of the WTO's tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi,
Kenya, in December 2015, when the chair of the conference, Kenya Trade
minister, Ambassador Amina Mohamed, along with the WTO Director-General
Roberto Azevedo navigated five major countries - the United States,
the European Union, China, India, Brazil - to produce a dubious outcome,"
according to participants who took part in the Nairobi meeting.
"Our ministers were relegated to coffee cup bearers instead of
negotiating their trading rights," Uganda complained after the
"We were never consulted," Uganda said, commenting on the
questionable Nairobi ministerial declaration.
As a fallout from the Nairobi ministerial meeting, Kenya suffered
a setback when its candidate Amina Mohamed was not elected for the
top executive job in the African Union last year, said an African
trade envoy familiar with the development.
Kenya, which is a major user of public stockholding programs for food
security, had campaigned hard for a credible and strong permanent
solution for public stockholding programs at the WTO's ninth ministerial
meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013.
At present, Kenya, which is suffering a major drought, has crossed
the limits for de minimis support for maize. Kenya is also a key member
of the G-33 farm coalition of developing countries led by Indonesia.
Against this backdrop, serious doubts are being expressed whether
Ambassador Karau will be allowed space by major industrialized and
powerful agricultural exporting countries for arriving at a credible
permanent solution for the public stockholding programs for food security
and an outcome on the much-hurdled special safeguard mechanism for
developing countries, according to trade envoys familiar with the
Major industrialized countries along with their allies such as Pakistan
and Paraguay have already made it known in unmistakable terms that
the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security
will include numerous conditionalities that would make it nearly infructuous,
according to trade envoys who attended the green room meeting convened
by WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo on 17 March with 27 countries.
But Indonesia, which is the coordinator for the G-33, made it clear
at the green room meeting that its members want a credible and legally
sound agreement for the permanent solution.
Indonesia reminded the participants at the meeting about its proposal
that offered three options.
The G-33 proposal which was first tabled on 17 July 2014 provided
the following options:
(i) To add new sub-paragraph (h) to the existing Paragraph 2 of Annex
2 of the Agreement on Agriculture with a view to include certain policies
and services designed to promote rural development and poverty alleviation
adopted in developing countries;
(ii) To modify the existing footnote 5 of Annex 2 of the Agreement
on Agriculture so as to provide that acquisition of stocks of foodstuffs
by developing country Members with objective of supporting low-income
or resource-poor producers shall not be required to be accounted for
in the AMS [calculation of amber box measures];
(iii) To modify the existing footnote 5 and 6 of Annex 2 of the Agreement
on Agriculture with a view to reinforce and supplement the proposed
modification to footnote 5 and also strengthen the existing footnote
5 and 6 further so as also to cover the programs designed to lowering
prices to more reasonable levels [as compared to the 1986-88 reference
period prices for AMS calculation].
Indonesia also said "the existing provisions on public stockholding
for food security purpose under the current WTO rules will not be
able to address the real needs of developing members to effectively
support their low- income or resource-poor farmers, nor to fight hunger
and rural poverty."
A powerful broker of trade deals recently dropped hints about working
on a country-specific permanent solution, said people familiar with
It remains to be seen whether Ambassador Karau will go ahead with
the proposal of the African Group to chair the Doha agriculture negotiating
body or politely refuse the offer on grounds that Kenya is an active
demandeur of a strong covered agreement for the permanent solution
for public stockholding programs for food security at the Buenos Aires
meeting later this year, trade envoys said.
In a related development to the Buenos Aires meeting, eight South
American countries - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay,
Peru, and Uruguay - circulated a decision reached by their foreign
ministers on the deliverables they will seek at the WTO's eleventh
ministerial meeting, including the permanent solution for food security.
In a restricted document issued on 10 March, the eight countries said
that the Buenos Aires meeting "provides a valuable opportunity
to continue taking significant steps in the process of reforming the
multilateral system for trade in agricultural products and food, eliminating
the currently severe distortions that prevent agro-exporting developing
countries from achieving their production potential and fully contributing
to global food security."
The eight countries underscored the need to find "a permanent
solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes,
ensuring that it does not distort international trade or production."
The South American proponents argued that "protectionist measures
include tariff peaks, tariff escalation, small tariff quotas and distorting
production subsidies, resulting in situations which in many cases
are compounded by the proliferation of non-tariff import restrictions
in the form of sanitary, phytosanitary and technical measures applied
in an unjustified and arbitrary manner."
Therefore, "fairer and more transparent and open international
trade is an invaluable tool for sustainably increasing food production"
and is essential at this juncture, they maintained.
WTO members must focus on their discussions "primarily on trade-
and production-distorting domestic support and on securing improvements
in current market access conditions," the eight countries argued.
Significantly, the eight countries failed to mention the need for
special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries. Barring
Bolivia and Peru, the remaining six countries had opposed the SSM
At a time when the United States under President Trump's administration
wants to pursue bilateral agreements instead of multilateral outcomes
on trade, the prospects for any credible outcomes at the Buenos Aires
meeting seem bleak, according to trade envoys who asked not to be