Agri-chair pressured by ICs to drop SSM, food security talks
Published in SUNS #8134 dated 13 November 2015

Geneva, 12 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Leading developed countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have told the chair for the Doha agriculture negotiations Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand to drop his proposed technical consultations for exploring credible outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) demanded by the members of the G-33 group, trade envoys told the SUNS.

The developed countries, according to trade envoys, are angry that the chair is embarking on his sustained consultations on these two issues on which they are not prepared to work at this juncture.

During the last meeting of the Doha agriculture negotiating body on October 30, the chair informed members that he would press ahead with more consultations on all issues based on the principles of "parallelism; without prejudice; no presumption; and transparency".

"All elements in our negotiations remain as potential deliverables for the Nairobi package," the chair said.

Ambassador Vitalis said "engagement on all issues we are working on and seeking to progress, including in the text-based negotiations on Export Competition is entirely without prejudice to their position on the overall Nairobi package.

"Further, there is no presumption of convergence on what precisely an outcome should look like in any of the areas we are currently working on," the chair argued.

Finally, he said his consultations will be based on the principle of an "inclusive and transparent process", but "will not be a Melian Dialogue," a historical phase of negotiations between the emissaries of the Athenian invaders and the rulers of Melos.

Ambassador Vitalis has informed members during the last special session of the Doha negotiating body that he would press ahead with negotiations on issues in the export competition pillar, and SSM, and other issues based on concrete proposals from members.

So far, the G-33 members led by Indonesia have tabled concrete proposals on how to arrive at outcomes on both the SSM and permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security.

The G-33 members have repeatedly demanded that the chair accelerate the technical consultations so as to finalize outcomes before the Nairobi ministerial meeting beginning on December 15, a G-33 envoy told the SUNS.

However, the proponents for outcomes on the export competition pillar have not tabled any proposal despite the Chair's call for tabling proposals without delay, said another trade envoy from South America.

In the ongoing war of nerves on the issues in the agriculture package, some trade envoys from major industrialized countries have apparently told the chair not to convene meetings on both the special safeguard mechanism and permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and focus only on export competition, the South American envoy said.

Despite pressure from behind the scenes, the chair is going ahead with more consultations on the SSM and public stockholding programs for food security, the envoy added.

The chair will hold a meeting on the SSM on Friday and a meeting on public stockholding programs for food security next week.

During the discussion on SSM last Friday (November 6), major developed countries adopted diversionary tactics instead of engaging in a serious technical discussion, according to several developing country trade envoys present at the meeting.

The EU, for example, said an outcome on SSM based on the G-33 proposal is out of the question as issues in the market access pillar are not on the table at this juncture.

The EU said the SSM can only be negotiated after the Nairobi meeting.

Chile said it cannot agree with the proposal on SSM because it includes FTA trade. Chile said it is a red line to negotiate the SSM as it would have to renegotiate 63 FTAs - which is not possible at this juncture.

Mexico said the SSM must be discussed only after Nairobi, while Paraguay said the SSM is a red line.

Brazil and the US raised severe opposition to any outcome on the SSM. Brazil said members cannot discuss SSM without market access.

Brazil said its farmers are facing huge barriers in the international trade, arguing that at a time when countries are negotiating to reduce barriers, it is not proper to discuss a restrictive mechanism like SSM.

The US said the G-33 proposal did not address the core concern of market access. Without market access, we cannot move on SSM, the US said.

Washington argued that in the TPP it would cut 18,000 tariff lines, and here in 14 years of the DDA negotiations, "we have not cut a single tariff line. Instead we are trying to increase tariffs, and we would like to ask G-33 whether it would block the deal at Nairobi".

Australia and Norway also raised political concerns but did not address the technical issues, according to trade envoys present at the meeting.

But the proponents of the G-33 proposal - Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, China, and India - dismissed the opposition, saying they are not engaging in a serious give-and-take negotiation.

The Philippines said Chile was wrong to argue that WTO members must take FTAs into consideration when discussing multilateral rules.

China said the premise of safeguards is to curb import surges and the injury they cause through sharp fall in the domestic prices.

China argued that agriculture is different from industry, maintaining that developing countries would need SSM.

Turkey said SSM is a deliverable tool for Nairobi, arguing that it will not create a burden. Developing countries are facing poverty and need to maintain price and volume stability. SSM is needed against highly subsidized imports, Turkey argued.

"We cannot accept a deal in agriculture without SSM, the proponents of SSM have not asked for lowering the ambition in market access and domestic support, we cannot be penalized," Turkey maintained, according to a participant.

Turkey said "we are not looking here at boosting trade alone, and trade should create welfare."

Turkey maintained that the FTAs are an exception to the multilateral trade, arguing that it is for FTA partners to decide how they would deal with the issue.

India slammed the opponents to the SSM, saying they are stonewalling the discussion instead of engaging to find a meaningful outcome.

India said some countries have raised technical issues while some other members described it as a gateway issue.

India said the SSM was never linked with market access.

"If we are talking about balancing, we are taking away one pillar of export competition in agriculture and even in that we are re-calibrating to accommodate one member," India said.

India never suggested re-calibration, and emphasised that New Delhi will never agree to an imbalanced deal.

India asked whether all three pillars are linked or not?

FTAs, India said, are a derogation of the multilateral trade agreement. India maintained that FTAs have to meet the requirements of multilateral trade.

India said if SSM can be discussed after Nairobi as proposed by some countries, then, export competition can also be discussed in the post-Nairobi work program.

In a nutshell, it appears that the chair for the Doha agriculture negotiations is being pressured to abandon the SSM and public stockholding work programs. This is one of the biggest scandals of the ongoing negotiations, said a developing country trade envoy. +