Chair seeks to stimulate discussions
The discussion in the negotiating session was based on possible ways forward on two critical negotiating topics (domestic support and public stockholding for food security purposes) that were suggested by the Chair in his note convening trade officials for the meeting. Under each topic, different approaches were put forward, drawing on recent negotiating submissions by members. The Chair noted that these elements were not intended to be exhaustive and were without prejudice to members’ positions.
He told the meeting that the elements he had put forward aimed to stimulate discussions, provide members with an opportunity to express their views, and identify potential areas of convergence which could then serve as a foundation for guiding the negotiations and reaching agreements. The Chair also emphasized that although a similar approach will be adopted for other negotiating topics, working methods would need to be tailored to suit the different negotiation statuses of each topic.
The goal was to achieve the best possible outcome at MC13, he said.
Public stockholding for food security purposes
On 17 July, the Chair facilitated a dedicated discussion on public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH) — where WTO members have agreed to pursue a “permanent solution” to the challenges some developing economies say they face under WTO rules when buying food at government-set prices under the programmes they have established in this area.
The Chair said that the discussions during the June negotiation meeting and the information session convened on 26 June by the group of proponents had led him to believe that WTO members were not yet ready for text-based negotiations on the topic.
He asked members to share their views on various possible approaches to addressing eight elements that could shape the contours of a permanent solution. The eight elements include: core provisions related to the nature of the permanent solution; the method for calculating market price support when procuring food for public stocks; the scope of programme and country coverage; the scope of product coverage; safeguard and anti-circumvention provisions; transparency and notification requirements; consultation and dispute settlement; and monitoring arrangements.
The different possible approaches put forward by the Chair were derived in particular from two recent negotiating submissions: one from Brazil in JOB/AG/230 and a joint one (JOB/AG/229) that was put forward by three negotiating coalitions — the African Group; the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group; and the G-33, a group of developing economies which includes major traders such as China, India and Indonesia as well as smaller WTO members.
Members engaged in further debates, including on the necessity of updating external reference prices for calculating market price support, the linkages between PSH discussions and overall talks on domestic support reform, and the importance of gaining a better understanding of the implementation of existing PSH programmes to facilitate an evidence-based discussion.
Some members stressed that the approaches presented by the Chair did not represent the full range of positions, and noted that the recent submission by Costa Rica in JOB/AG/243 suggested a possible way forward.
The Chair said the discussions provided useful inputs — but also warned that more work still needs to be done. He urged members to engage with one another actively so as to bridge the gaps between their negotiating positions, and to identify potential areas of agreement.
Domestic support reform
At the 18 July meeting, the Chair asked negotiators to exchange views on various possible approaches to address four areas in the negotiations: reduction of overall trade-distorting support; support that is provided to specific products; “Blue Box” support, provided under production-limiting support programmes; and “Green Box” support, which is allowed without any monetary limit on condition that it causes no more than minimal distortion to trade and production. The Chair also reminded participants that domestic support remains the priority for many WTO members.
The elements put forward by the Chair were derived from two recent submissions: the African Group’s submission in JOB/AG/242 and Costa Rica’s submission in JOB/AG/243, both of which were presented to other WTO members in the meeting on 21-22 June.
In the ensuing discussion, members elaborated on their preferences and engaged in a lively discussion on the pros and cons of the various approaches. Members remained divided on the appropriate direction for conducting reforms on domestic support, as evidenced by their different views on the key elements outlined in the Chair’s list, including notably in relation to “Article 6.2: support” that covers various forms of support granted by developing countries notably to investment and inputs or the Green Box.
Many members asked questions about the proposed methodology for reducing and capping trade distorting domestic support that had been put forward in Costa Rica’s submission. Costa Rica provided a detailed explanation of its methodology, and said it welcomed new ideas.
Some members considered that more work was required, and that realism should prevail for MC13 in light of the lack of convergence. The Cotton-4 (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali), supported by several members, also emphasized the need to make progress on how to reduce trade distorting support for cotton. Several members called in the course of the discussion for a comprehensive package, addressing market access and export restrictions in particular.
Special safeguard mechanism
At a dedicated session on 17 July, negotiators reviewed the African Group’s new submission (JOB/AG/205/Rev.1), which relaunches the call for a “special safeguard mechanism” that would enable developing members to temporarily raise tariffs in the event of a sudden import surge or a fall in food prices. Members also heard from Costa Rica regarding the special countervailing measure proposed in its domestic support submission (JOB/AG/243) as a possible tool against subsidized imports.
Proponents of the African Group proposal made the case that the new safeguard mechanism would enable them to shield vulnerable producers from market shocks. Other WTO members argued that talks on the safeguard should be part of comprehensive agricultural reform negotiations that would also improve access to agricultural markets.
The Chair told the meeting that WTO members needed to clarify what their expectations were for a possible outcome in this area at MC13. With limited time remaining before the ministerial conference, he urged them to explore possible solutions to the linkage invoked by several members between the proposed new safeguard and talks on improving market access.
In conclusion, the Chair drew attention to the need for the agriculture negotiations to contribute meaningfully to action on food insecurity. He noted that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization had recently released new figures estimating that around 735 million people, equivalent to 9% of the global population, faced hunger in 2022.
“It’s clear that urgent action is needed on all the issues before us if we’re to ensure that markets for food and agriculture play their part in contributing to a more food secure future for all of us,” he said. Many members also considered in the discussions that MC13 should deliver on food security.
The Chair told participants that the next round of negotiating meetings was scheduled for 25-26 September, to be followed by a senior officials’ meeting on 23-24 October which would provide guidance to negotiators on the work to be conducted ahead of the ministerial conference.
The WTO’s agriculture negotiations encompass various topics, including domestic support, market access, export competition, export restrictions, cotton, public stockholding for food security purposes, the special safeguard mechanism and the cross-cutting issue of transparency.
More on the WTO agriculture negotiations: WTO | Agriculture — negotiations
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