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New WTO ag chair elected

New Zealander Vangelis Vitalis takes over reigns in hopes to reach ag deal ahead of December ministerial meeting.

World Trade Organization agriculture negotiators elected New Zealand Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis as their new chairperson on Sept. 8.

Vitalis was appointed as New Zealand’s ambassador to the WTO in July. Previously he served as his country’s head of mission to the European Union and NATO and ambassador to Sweden.

Someone from New Zealand has held the chairman position since 2003, with the latest chair John Adank serving from November 2011 to July 2015.

During remarks to the Committee on Agriculture in a special session, Vitalis said he undertakes the role of chair with due humility. “I recognize that the role of Chair has always been a challenging one, not only because of the complex technical and policy issues involved in the negotiations but also because of agriculture’s central place in the Doha Development Round as a whole,” he said.

He said he remained committed to working honestly, fairly, objectively and transparently with all delegations to facility the collective movement towards agreement.

He also said there’s no time to waste with the Nairobi Ministerial coming up fast which is scheduled for mid-December.

In July, WTO members remained divided on how to advance agriculture negotiations. Two papers on domestic support were submitted by Canada and Australia and by Norway. Overall trade distorting support has proved to be one of the most contentious issues of the agriculture negotiations, Adank said at the time.

The general view was that the outcome in domestic support would determine the level of ambition in the other areas of the agriculture negotiations — market access and export subsidies.

Vitalis said he plans to meet individually with the different agricultural ministers to make progress on the difficult subjects and plans to convene an informal meeting of the special session to ensure a fully inclusive process.

And as for the substance of the negotiations, he said, “I have neither a magic wand nor a magic draft, nor any other kind of magical powers. Sadly, the magical powers so dramatically presented in Lord of the Rings – despite being filmed in New Zealand – seem to have passed me by.”

But he did offer hope that a “happy moment” could be reached in time for Nairobi.

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