Consensus possible in WTO ag talks

Consensus possible in WTO ag talks

- Negotiations need to intensify after summer break.

- Ag chairman urges creative thinking on proposals.

- Ideas advanced on food security and export competition.

WITH only about two working months remaining for World Trade Organization members to find common ground in agriculture before a ministerial conference in December in Bali, John Adank, chair of the WTO agriculture talks, told members that reaching a consensus on political messages may be possible, but major differences remain on revised rules for domestic support and export subsidies.

Adank, New Zealand's ambassador, was reporting to the full membership July 18 on the consultations he has held with a number of delegations since the last meeting in May.

Norway used the meeting to propose an idea that might help solve one of the difficult issues under discussion: how to allow developing countries to use price supports when they purchase and stock produce for food security without breaching their committed limits on domestic support.

The proposed solution would involve an adjustment in calculations to take account of markets that do not function properly, enabling at least some developing countries to acquire food at administered prices for the purpose without breaching limits on trade-distorting domestic support.

It was welcomed by several delegations as an example of the new ideas needed at this stage in the talks. Adank urged members to use the WTO summer break — August to early September — for more creative thinking.

"As I'm not in a position to announce today that we have consensus in any area of our work in relation to Bali, this means that the period after the summer break will necessarily need to be extremely focused and intensive if we are, in fact, to deliver on the expectation that has been set now for several months that 'elements of agriculture' will form part of a suite of Bali decisions," he said.

"So, delegations need to adjust their mindset to take into account this time frame. I would encourage you, before you depart for the summer break, to register where things are with your (government) and ensure that both you and they are focused on the challenge that will need to be met if we are to arrive at convergence on agricultural elements for the Bali ministerial," Adank added.

 

Consultations

The chairman's consultations have focused on a stockholding-for-food-security proposal from the G33 group of developing countries that would require some rules changes on domestic support.

Adank noted that the most progress has been made on the possibility of an "interim mechanism" that provides flexibility for specific members. The G33 members said they would need some "legal certainty" that their use of the mechanism would not be subject to legal challenges.

Other members said they sought a mechanism with time limits, transparency and a means of preventing a "spillover" that would distort markets.

Another focus is a proposal from the G20 group of developing countries on export subsidies and related issues, grouped as "export competition."

The goal would be to eliminate export subsidies and discipline export credit to reduce the chance that the credit is subsidized. This idea is championed by Brazil, which has challenged the U.S. on its export subsidies.

The group proposed that developed countries halve the maximum amounts they can spend on export subsidies by the end of 2013. The maximum allowed quantities of subsidized exports would also be reduced by the end of 2013 to the average actual quantities in 2003-05. All WTO members would phase in a 540-day limit in the repayment period for export credit (the eventual target is the benchmark for commercial terms, i.e., 180 days).

Adank reported that some members supported the G20 proposal, including some that may still have questions related to the proposal, but objections came from some of the largest subsidizers — those with the biggest committed export subsidy limits after implementing reductions from their historically high levels, even though the actual subsidies currently might be low. This group argued that the 2013 deadline was only agreed upon in Hong Kong as part of a complete Doha Round deal.

The two proposals on the table in the agriculture discussions are issues that might find consensus at the Bali ministerial, scheduled for Dec. 3-6 ahead of other issues in the Doha Round talks.

A third proposal envisages tighter disciplines for administering tariff-rate quotas — how governments allocate importers' shares of quotas for lower-duty quantities and how to deal with the possibility that the methods used might impede trade. This has not been discussed recently, and members still have reservations about it, Adank reported.

This meeting was the last before the final session of the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee — which oversees the Doha Round talks in all subjects — before the summer break, which runs from August to early September.

With several differences remaining on core issues in the proposals, delegates agreed with Adank that more intensive negotiations are needed after the break.

Volume:85 Issue:30

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