Bali agreement keeps WTO talks alive

Multilateral agreement struck by WTO members address key issues with regard to agricultural trade.

The Doha Round of World Trade Organization's recent mini-package multilateral agreement at the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia Dec. 5-7 helped establish a pathway forward after languishing since 2008. Overall the agreement takes important steps to address some key issues with regard to agricultural trade including promoting food security, facilitation competition and enhancing exports but still leaves many significant issues unresolved. 

“For the first time in our history: the WTO has truly delivered,” said WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo.

Earlier in the year, trade facilitation was considered low-hanging fruit and could easily be agreed upon by members. Although in the end, there were some obstacles to overcome in reaching an agreement, the deal offers ways to streamline procedures at borders and customs, which in the end will help move products easier, explained Dave Salmonsen, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of congressional relations.  

U.S. Grains Council Director of Trade Policy Floyd Gaibler was on the scene defending the interests of U.S. feed grains and co-product producers. "Trade facilitation measures that reduce transaction costs and red tape should improve overall trade benefits, including agriculture related products,” Gaibler noted.

The outcome achieved re-affirms the call for the elimination of export subsidies and reduction in maximum repayment periods for export credits. The decision will level the playing field on world markets for countries such as Canada and the United States, including exports of beef and pork.

Specifically export competition in the WTO covers ag export subsidies, ag export credits, food aid, and the operation of agricultural exporting state trading enterprises (STEs). 

A fact sheet from the U.S. Trade Representative explained the new decision on export competition will require transparency to help Members understand how their trading partners are proceeding toward this commitment.

WTO members established an interim food security program that will allow countries with existing food stockholding programs to continue to operate those existing programs even if they exceed or will result in exceeding their allowable domestic subsidies for an interim period until a final agreement is reached.

"While the agreement sets a target for reaching a final solution in four years at the 11th WTO Ministerial, it is not a binding duration."

Gaibler went on to say, however, that the agreement requires strong transparency and safeguard provisions, including protections to ensure that the operation of food stockholding programs will not distort trade or food security of other countries.

The agreement also carries new and stronger disciplines for the administration of tariff quotas that will create new opportunities for agricultural exporters. USTR said this component facilitates increased opportunities for U.S. farmers, ranchers, workers, and food processors to enhance exports to a number of WTO Member countries, including the European Union, Japan, Norway and Switzerland. 

Tariff quotas will now be subject to a new, more intensive, and structured review to address chronically low import volumes or underfill.  

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