Agriculture: More focused talks envisaged from mid-February

Published in SUNS #7508 dated 22 January 2013

Geneva, 21 Jan (Kanaga Raja) -- The first informal meeting of the Special Session of the WTO Agriculture Committee for this year heard the Chair informing negotiators that there is need for "more focused discussions" beginning mid-February.

At the informal open-ended meeting on 18 January, Chairperson Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand said that he has not decided yet how the next round of discussions should be organised.

According to trade officials, the Chair however highlighted three points:

* The information that is being complied and circulated on the topics currently under discussion as well as other issues will hopefully be a catalyst for this year's discussions;

* Those discussions should distinguish between technical issues and questions requiring political decisions;

* Members intending to submit new proposals should do so quickly, but only after they have discussed them with other members in order to test whether agreement will be possible by the ninth Bali Ministerial Conference (3-6 December 2013).

According to trade officials, Ambassador Adank went on to summarise what had happened over the last year, saying "I would suggest that starting in mid-February we need more focused discussions on where we are on the relevant issues and what the outlook [is] for advancing particular issues".

"Just to recall my earlier comment to encourage members contemplating new proposals to come forward with them as soon as possible, I would encourage those of you who are considering putting new ideas forward to do the necessary homework to determine whether your proposals would have a reasonable amount of support from other members to secure agreement within the timeframe we have available for the preparations for [the Bali Ministerial Conference] if the objective is to secure decisions by that time," the Chair added.

According to trade officials, there are currently two proposals on the table: one on tariff rate quota (TRQ) administration by the G-20, and the other on food security (including on public stockholding) by the G-33.

According to trade officials, some members have requested for more up-to-date data in order to help them negotiate these issues.

(The Secretariat has circulated the latest data based on notifications by members of tariff quota administration - TN/AG/26.)

Members have also requested data on public stockholding for food security and export credits, export guarantees and insurance programmes.

The Secretariat has sent out questionnaires for additional information that is not available from members' notifications.

According to trade officials, members have not been able to meet some of the deadlines for replying to the questionnaires and several said that they would respond soon.

While members said that they are willing to discuss the proposals seriously, some reiterated their reservations, including whether isolating these particular issues would upset the balance of the 2008 draft modalities text.

According to trade officials, some members were of the view that even if there is agreement on tariff quota administration, this would have to be balanced against some other agreement.

The result produced for the Bali conference in December could either be an agreement, or a reflection of countries' positions, said Norway, which was in favour of the latter.

According to trade officials, some members were concerned that public stockholding involving price support would undermine the WTO Agriculture Agreement's distinction between domestic support that distorts trade (the Amber Box) and support that does not distort trade (the Green Box).

A number of members reiterated their call for export restrictions to be included in the discussion on export competition (measures involving direct or indirect export subsidies).