Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May15/05)
11 May 2015
Third World Network
Dumping sequencing or agri-reform process in Doha Round?
Published in SUNS #8017 dated 7 May 2015
Geneva, 6 May (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) - The WTO Director-General,
Mr. Roberto Azevedo, appears to have attempted Tuesday (5 May) to
tweak the Doha trade talks by dumping the "sequencing" framework,
thus enabling the US to avoid answering tough questions on domestic
support in agriculture for concluding the negotiations and ensuring
a successful Nairobi Ministerial Conference.
Since the launch of the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1986 at Punta
del Este, and its conclusion in 1994 at Marrakesh including by placing
the agriculture sector and trade in agricultural products within the
ambit of the multilateral trading system and its disciplines, reducing
trade barriers at the border and cutting domestic support have been
seen as two sides of the same coin, in the same way as in GATT disciplines
in the industrial sector and specific domestic supports and subsidy
At Marrakesh, in return for this commitment to reverse course on agriculture,
and undertake reforms, albeit over a longer time frame, developing
countries agreed to more obligations and commitments in the areas
of trade in industrial goods, services (GATS) and global protection
for intellectual property (TRIPS).
It was in pursuance of the Marrakesh commitments to continue with
the reform process in agriculture after the initial set of reforms
and disciplines (covering reduction of domestic support, increasing
market access by cutting tariffs, and gradual elimination of export
subsidies) that the Doha Round was launched with agriculture as the
major focus, but also adding non-agricultural market access and further
These last two were done so as to provide the major developed countries,
in particular the US, EU and Japan with domestic political cover to
undertake further reforms in cutting domestic support and border tariffs
by showing as trade-offs gains in trade in non-agricultural market
access (NAMA) and services against agriculture concessions.
Hence from the beginning agriculture was seen as the yardstick for
any concessions by developing countries in NAMA or Services, and the
entire exercise carried out as a single undertaking.
As a corollary, since the launch of the Doha negotiations in 2001,
in so far as the agriculture sector is concerned, reduction of protection
on the three pillars of domestic support, market access and export
subsidies were viewed as one, rather than (as has happenned now) maintaining
or increasing protection and domestic support by developed countries
These two main elements lie behind the "sequencing" followed
since 2001, in the talks.
However, while at Doha, the US was fully behind further reforms in
agriculture trade, and in particular reducing barriers to trade in
Europe and Japan, by aiming at both border controls and domestic support,
soon after it began reversing course, now reaching a stage when it
is no longer willing to reduce its own domestic support, or even talk
about it, given the nature of its farm law and the power of its farm
The suggestion of the WTO D-G, at the General Council Tuesday, for
moving away from the sequencing framework, and focussing on market
access issues in agriculture, NAMA and Services, thus dumping any
talk of cutting domestic support on agriculture, has raised doubts
whether all this is a manoeuvre to enable the US to avoid answering
tough questions on this, several trade envoys told SUNS after the
Hitherto, in the "sequencing" based negotiations, agriculture
issues, and more so issues of trade-distorting domestic support got
primacy over other areas of the DDA talks, in drawing up a post-Bali
At the General Council meeting, Azevedo said (according to his remarks
as TNC chair, posted on the WTO website) "we have to be aware
of the damaging consequences that any kind of de-facto sequencing
may have". He acknowledged that "there are "gateway"
issues that we need to tackle very quickly."
At the formal TNC meeting on 27 April, while he promoted a re-calibrating
strategy for the post-Bali work programme, the large majority of developing
countries negatived such an approach, and insisted that agriculture
is the locomotive of the Round, and that the revised modalities texts
evolved over years of patient talks should provide the basis for further
In his remarks Tuesday at the General Council, without suggesting
what new approach would replace the "sequencing" strategy,
the Director-General said the work programme must fulfill three criteria.
First, "it must be substantive and meaningful," implying
that it ought to cover all areas in a balanced manner. Second, "it
must provide clear guidance on how to conclude the [Doha] negotiations"
at the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, and third,
"it must be a springboard to a successful MC10," he maintained.
(The logo for the Nairobi meeting was unveiled Tuesday).
To pave the way for accomplishing "an overall balance" in
the "substantive" work programme, Azevedo is to begin a
discussion "on the horizontal trade-offs, including the wider
Room W consultations [where all members can take part in the proceedings]."
"And the importance of this horizontal process underlines how
vital it is that we make substantive movement in all areas to facilitate
these trade-offs," Azevedo emphasised.
As part of the trade-offs, the market access in agriculture, industrial
goods, services, and rules will be explored ahead of domestic support.
Since there is no clarity yet on what a major industrialised country
(the US) is ready to do at this juncture in the domestic support pillar
of agriculture, only market access and rules will be taken up, said
a trade envoy who took part in the General Council meeting.
Azevedo said "development and LDC issues must continue to remain
central to our work" while emphasising the operationalisation
of the LDC services waiver in which some 25 members indicated the
preferential treatment they will provide in LDC services sectors and
modes of supply.
So far, only one member has followed through and submitted a notification,
the Director-General added.
But on other LDC issues such as duty-free and quota-free market access,
simplification of preferential rules of origin, and cotton, there
is still no clarity whether they will be fully addressed in the work
programme, said a LDC trade envoy from Africa.
Until now, a large number of developing countries, particularly Brazil
on behalf of the G-20 developing country farm coalition, have maintained
consistently that agriculture is the engine of the DDA negotiations.
Consequently, the developing and least-developed countries, particularly
the Cotton-four countries in West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali,
and Chad), have demanded that the trade-distorting domestic support
and export subsidies and export credits need to be negotiated along
with other issues in the Doha agriculture package as part of the sequencing
As part of this strategy, members would approach market access for
industrial goods, services, rules, environmental goods, and developmental
issues concerning special and differential treatment in the DDA, after
the difficult issues in the agriculture package, especially the growing
trade-distorting domestic subsidies for rich farmers in industrialised
countries, are sufficiently addressed.
Although the "sequencing" framework was not stated in the
mandate, it was generally accepted as the framework to conclude the
Mr Azevedo, when he was Brazil's trade envoy, aggressively promoted
the sequencing strategy, saying that agriculture is the locomotive
for the Doha negotiations, noted a South American trade envoy who
was familiar with the negotiations.
But, in his current role as the chairman of the Doha TNC , Mr Azevedo
informed members at the General Council meeting on 5 May that "many
delegations noted that, we have to be aware of the damaging consequences
that any kind of de-facto sequencing may have."
He said "the key potential trade-offs between the different areas
are not clearly on the table as yet."
"This is why I announced at the TNC that I would increasingly
look at ways to facilitate a discussion on the horizontal trade-offs,
including though the wider Room W process," Mr Azevedo said.
The Director-General, however, did not explain what "these damaging
consequences are," which member or members have called for abandoning
the sequencing framework, and why those damaging consequences were
not noticed when the Trade Facilitation Agreement was negotiated in
"For all we know, when he was making a pitch for the Trade Facilitation
Agreement in 2013 and knowing fully well that it is a market access
agreement, he did not get into any discussion on horizontal trade-offs,"
said another envoy.
During the TF negotiations in 2013, the Director-General held meetings
only on the TF issue without linking it to other issues in the Bali
package such as agriculture, issues on public stockholding programmes
for food security and developmental demands, particularly those raised
by the least-developed countries.
"Effectively, he held separate meetings on these issues without
bringing any horizontal trade-offs," the envoy said.
Over the last two months, the Director-General has held consultations
with a former United States chief agriculture negotiator, Joseph Glauber,
to figure out what Washington can offer in the face of its farm bill
adopted last year.
It was found that because of the new farm bill which was enacted last
year and which would be in place for the next five years, the US will
exceed the cap of US$14.5 billion as negotiated at the time of the
2008 revised draft modalities.
Azevedo held a meeting with trade envoys from six countries - the
US, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and Australia - at the
Australian mission a fortnight ago to discuss the difficult issues
in domestic support.
During the discussion, there were reportedly sharp exchanges on the
de minimis provision for China, and Article 6.2 of the WTO's Agreement
on Agriculture (AoA).
The US maintained that it would take a commensurate commitment in
domestic support only after China agrees to reduce its de minimis
and further tightening of Article 6.2 of the AoA, a stand that is
not consistent with the previous Doha mandates such as the Doha Ministerial
Declaration of 2001, the July 2004 framework agreement, the 2005 Hong
Kong Ministerial Declaration, and the 2008 revised draft modalities,
said sources in trade missions familiar with the meeting.
One trade envoy said that the Director-General has seen the writing
on the wall that he cannot address the difficult issues in domestic
support at this juncture.
According to a developing country negotiator, the US wants the Director-General
to remain silent on the issue of domestic support commitments until
the trade promotion authority bill is passed in the Congress.
The negotiator said any discussion on domestic support reduction commitments
at this juncture could vitiate the climate in Washington where the
administration is facing hurdles to get support from its Democratic
party members for passing the TPA.
"Hence, the change for moving away from sequencing strategy based
on agriculture first and the rest later of the Doha agenda,"
the negotiator said.
(* The above comment was contributed by Chakravarthi Raghavan, Editor-Emeritus
of the SUNS, with inputs from D. Ravi Kanth.)