NAIROBI, KENYA — World Trade Organizations (WTO) members exchanged views on two recent proposals for possible areas of agreement in agriculture at the WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, at an informal meeting of agriculture negotiators on Nov. 18. Differences remain among members on the way forward.
One of the proposals relates to a possible outcome on export competition at the Ministerial Conference. The second proposal — by the G33 group, a coalition of developing countries pressing for flexibility for developing countries to undertake limited market opening in agriculture — updates the group's earlier proposals regarding the special safeguard mechanism, which would enable developing countries to temporarily raise tariffs to curb import surges. The G33 believes that this should be part of the package of issues to be agreed in Nairobi.
Indonesia's proposal on the special safeguard mechanism, presented on behalf of the G33, was put forward in the form of a draft ministerial decision. It introduces a few changes to the G33's previous proposals in terms of the products subject to tariff increases, the extent and duration of such increases, and flexibilities for poor countries in order to reflect concerns raised by members.
G33 members argued that the special safeguard mechanism and finding a permanent solution to public stockholding programs needed to form part of the outcome. Some members supported this but many others continued to reject this possibility, citing the absence of a market access proposal and the lack of time to reach an agreement.
The proposal on export competition is co-sponsored by Brazil, the E.U., Argentina, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. In presenting their proposal, they stressed that a decision on this issue would be of great benefit to developing countries in particular. The proposal is based on the 4th revision of the agricultural negotiations text of 2008 — also known as 'Rev 4' — but includes some adjustments to reflect the concerns expressed by some members. It proposes to eliminate export subsidies and introduces certain disciplines relating to other export policies — such as export credits, international food aid and state trading enterprises — that could have an equivalent trade distorting effect.
A paper was also submitted by Australia, highlighting how a legally binding decision in Nairobi, Kenya on export competition could be commercially beneficial. In addition, the chairperson of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand, updated members on his recent consultations on a number of important agricultural issues.
There was a shared sense among members that an outcome on export competition remained possible for Nairobi, but a wide divergence remained on this issue. Several members observed that removing export subsidies would be a historic achievement for the Nairobi Ministerial Conference. They urged members to adopt a pragmatic approach and underlined that there should not be an attempt to link export competition with other agricultural topics.
Some developing countries stressed the need to maintain flexibilities in the negotiations, particularly for small, vulnerable economies.
Members discussed the two proposals and gave their general views on what could be an outcome on agriculture for the Ministerial Conference.
“The export competition pillar remains in substance where it was at our last meeting on Oct. 30,” Ambassador Vitalis told members. He regretted that on domestic support and market access — two other pillars of the agriculture negotiations — he has "seen no evolution in the substantive positions of members”.
“Notwithstanding this useful discussion, it is clear that a difficult political threshold question remains unresolved,” said Ambassador Vitalis concerning the special safeguard mechanism (SSM). “This is whether there is a shared sensed that the SSM is a potential deliverable for Nairobi.” He said that views appear to be diametrically opposed.
On public stockholding for food security purposes, the chair said that “with regret I have to say that I did not see any fundamental change in members' well-known positions.” He reminded members that “we have a mandate both from the Bali Ministerial in 2013 and from the general council in 2014” to make all concerted efforts to find a permanent solution.
Members generally welcomed the efforts to move the negotiations forward on export competition. A few developing countries noted, however, that a binding requirement to notify their export subsidies programs could be cumbersome to comply with. Some members raised concerns about certain aspects of the proposal on export competition, including the new proposed timeline to fully eliminate export subsidies, the rules on state trading enterprises, and the disciplines to ensure that food aid does not negatively affect regional and domestic food production.
The chair emphasized that his role is to facilitate the negotiations and he would continue to do this intensively in the period ahead. He also warned members that they should be ready to meet at extremely short notice and at unsocial hours, underlining that a high level of engagement would be needed from all members if there are to be worthwhile results in Nairobi on agriculture.