Harbinson circulates text on agriculture

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 8 Oct 2001 - The Chairman of the General Council, Mr.  Stuart Harbinson, who had called in a group of 20-22 delegations and read out to them orally a text relating to the negotiations for agriculture (and which he had implied was not his own), has now circulated a text in writing to the WTO members, trade diplomats said Monday.

The written text more or less follows the one he read out last week to the smaller group (and published in SUNS #4982, from the text written down and made available by trade diplomats) , but has some slight variations.

The new text, with omissions in text read out set within brackets, and the additions in capital letters, reads:

“11.1 We recognize the work already undertaken in THE negotiations initiated in early 2000 under Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture, including the large number of negotiating proposals submitted on behalf of a total of 121 Members.  We recall the long-term objective (agreed at the mid-term review of the Uruguay Round) REFERRED TO IN THE AGREEMENT to establish a fair and market-oriented trading system through a programme of fundamental reform (with) ENCOMPASSING STRENGTHENED RULES AND SPECIFIC COMMITMENTS ON SUPPORT AND PROTECTION in order to correct and prevent restrictions and distortions in WORLD agricultural markets. We reconfirm our commitment to this programme. Building on the work carried out to date, we commit ourselves to comprehensive negotiations aimed at: substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support. We (commit ourselves to ensuring) AGREE that special and differential treatment for developing countries shall be an integral part of all elements of the negotiations (and that specific concerns of developing countries shall be effectively address) AND SHALL BE EMBODIED IN THE SCHEDULES OF CONCESSIONS AND COMMITMENTS AND AS APPROPRIATE IN THE RULES AND DISCIPLINES TO BE NEGOTIATED, SO AS TO BE OPERATIONALLY EFFECTIVE AND TO ENABLE DEVELOPING COUNTRIES TO EFFECTIVELY TAKE ACCOUNT OF THEIR DEVELOPMENT NEEDS, INCLUDING FOOD SECURITY AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT. We TAKE NOTE OF THE NON-TRADE CONCERNS REFLECTED IN THE NEGOTIATING PROPOSALS SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS AND confirm that non-trade concerns will be taken into account in the negotiations as provided for in the Agreement on Agriculture.

11.2 Modalities for the further commitments, including provisions for special and differential treatment, shall be established no later than... . Participants shall submit their comprehensive draft Schedules based on these modalities no later than... . The negotiations, including with respect to rules and disciplines and related legal texts, shall be concluded as part and at the date of conclusion of the negotiating agenda as a whole (paragraph 36 below refers).

A footnote says that the question of the negotiating body will be addressed as a horizontal issue (paragraph 37 below refers).

At a heads of delegations meeting Monday, the EC voiced its objections to the text - principally to the use of the words ‘phasing out’ in relation to export subsidies, and also for the non-mention of the environment issues in the text, trade diplomats said.

The term ‘phasing out’ used in the text, in parenthesis, trade diplomats noted, merely mentions it as a goal in terms of the actual mandate in the negotiations for reduction of export subsidies, and is more a cosmetic fig-leaf for the members of the Cairns Group who have been demanding an expanded mandate and providing for an end to export subsidies and bringing agriculture on a par with the industrial sector.

However, the EC (at least some parts of it are said to have worked with the US to produce the text), under prodding from the French have apparently objected both to the ‘phasing out’ and non-mention of environmental factors and elements (which is used widely by the EC to provide ‘green-‘ and ‘blue-box’ subsidies to their farmers.

The heads of delegations meet also discussed the part of the draft declaration relating to the further work in the Committee on Trade and Environment.

The EC which on Sunday (when the discussions began) had underscored the importance it attached to this issue, and in fact leaving little doubt that it would dig its heel in, had orally presented two alternatives. On Monday it put these down on paper and circulated texts. According to this, under option one proposed by the EC:

“We agree to negotiations, to be directed to clarifying existing WTO rules on matters examined under the Committee on Trade and Environment’s terms of reference.

Clarification will be sought in full conformity with the basic concepts and principles of existing WTO agreements and incorporating the results of dispute settlement. The outcome shall not create scope for protectionist abuse.

[The EC under this option has indicated it was willing to agree to additional guarantees against protectionist abuse, if others could identify helpful ideas]

In the initial phase Members will indicate the issues they believe require clarification, and in the light of discussions, will within X months, submit initial contributions.

We agree at the Fifth Ministerial to consider giving further specific guidance to this work.”

A second, and lengthier option, in effect spelt out some of the ‘elements’ to be included in the issues that members are to indicate in the initial phase. The EC second option read:

We agree to negotiations to be conducted by the CTE meeting in Special Session.

Negotiations are to be directed to clarifying existing WTO rules.

The aim is to increase predictability in the multilateral trading system and to ensure compatibility between WTO and public policy or market responses to environmental concerns.

In an initial phase, Members will indicate issues they believe require clarification, and in the light of discussions, will, within X months, submit initial contributions where, necessary.

Clarification will be sought in full conformity with the basic concepts and principles of existing WTO agreements and incorporating the results of dispute settlement.

The outcome shall not create scope for protectionist abuse.

Elements for examination shall include: - clarification, in pursuance of the WTO’s objective of sustainable development, those situations in which the outcome of negotiations mandated in this work programme would benefit trade, the environment and development, with a view to concrete steps such as improved market access for environmentally helpful goods and services... - clarification of the non-protectionist and science-based application of risk assessment and management provisions, including possible codification of relevant results of WTO dispute settlement concerning the SPS agreement and similar clarification of the TBT agreement; - clarification of ways to implement the TRIPS agreement in a manner mutually supportive of the CBD; - clarification of the treatment of the export of domestically prohibited goods, in the light of WTO rules and evolving international practice; - clarification of the relationship between existing WTO agreements and multilateral environment agreements (MEAs), while ensuring that trade measures taken pursuant to an MEA are not applied in a way which constitutes a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between members or a disguised restriction on international trade; - clarification, as appropriate, of the relationship between existing WTO agreements and labelling, while improving consultation of third parties, both in the operation of labelling schemes and in the development of specific labelling criteria or requirements.

In some initial remarks, the US felt that the chairman’s text provided a sound basis for talks, but regretted the absence of any reference in it to subsidies in fisheries. The US did not also any need to draw up rules in a general way.  Where there were problems in particular cases, clarification could be sought, it argued.

India in opposing any new rules clarifications, and in a reference to the Swiss view that for Switzerland (and many countries) issues of environment and environment protection were very dear to their hearts, said that developing countries were no less concerned about environment protection than the developed countries. However, the existing WTO provisions were more than adequate for countries to take measures. – SUNS4984

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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