OMC – Negociaciones sobre agricultura




En una reunión del Comité de Agricultura en Sesión Extraordinaria celebrada el 10 de marzo, la Presidenta de las negociaciones sobre la agricultura, Embajadora Gloria Abraham Peralta (Costa Rica), instó a los Miembros de la OMC a que actuaran aprovechando el impulso proporcionado por el nuevo liderazgo de la Directora General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala y por la fecha recientemente acordada para la celebración de la Duodécima Conferencia Ministerial (CM12). La Presidenta pidió a los Miembros que pasaran rápidamente a un modo de solución de problemas y búsqueda de soluciones, con miras a lograr un resultado gradual, equilibrado y significativo en la esfera de la agricultura en la CM12 a finales de 2021.

WTO members discussed the latest reports from the chair-appointed facilitators covering seven topics: domestic support, market access, export competition, export restrictions, cotton, public stockholding and the proposed special safeguard mechanism. The chair encouraged members to seize every opportunity in the current facilitator-led process, expected to continue until May, to build trust and enhance understanding so that members can get ready to enter “a more comprehensive, integrated high-level negotiating phase” before the summer break.

Facilitators’ reports

On domestic support, the facilitators – Mr Greg MacDonald (Canada), Ms Fenny Maharani (Indonesia) and Ms Elisa Olmeda (Mexico) – laid out several common themes that they identified for further discussions.  The themes, grouped under broad headings, include: the general principles for the negotiations and the process for moving forward; trade-distorting domestic support; blue box; Article 6.2 support; green box; COVID 19 and food security; special and differential treatment; and transparency.

Several technical discussion sessions are already scheduled over the coming months to go through these themes, the facilitators said. To avoid engaging in purely academic discussions, they proposed posing specific questions to members, with a view to determining where progress can be made at MC12.

On market access, the facilitator – Mariya-Khrystyna Koziy (Ukraine) — recapped the recent discussions among members on a wide range of elements, including the linkages both within and outside agriculture, transparency (in particular, the proposal on predictability of applied tariffs and shipment en route), non-trade concerns and the situation of net food-importing countries, and non-tariff barriers. Acknowledging the challenges in the market access negotiations, including due to members’ high sensitivity to undertaking tariff liberalization and an increased priority ascribed by many to other negotiating pillars and topics, she encouraged members  to advance discussions in the market access process to lay the groundwork for a balanced agriculture package at MC12.

On export competition, the facilitator – Ms Laura Gauer (Switzerland) — said that transparency was at the centre of her work. She plans to organize big group meetings to facilitate interactions between proponents and other members and to enable further clarifications on their views regarding enhanced transparency.  She reiterated her intention to promote synergy between regular committee meetings and those of the Special Session, especially in light of the upcoming Triennial Review of the Nairobi Decision in the regular committee.

The facilitator on export restrictions, Mr Leonardo Rocha Bento (Brazil), provided an update on his work on the two aspects of this discussion: the proposed World Food Programme (WFP) exemption (an initiative calling on members not to impose export restrictions on food purchases by WFP for humanitarian purposes); and transparency. He said that to reach a multilateral resolution of the WFP matter, members needed first to work on the technical dimension (finding compromise language for the proposed exemption). In this regard, he expressed optimism on members’ ability to make progress through constructive engagement.

He also noted that for some members, this issue could not be considered in isolation from the rest of the agricultural negotiations. He said that a WFP senior official had confirmed the willingness of the WFP to actively cooperate with the WTO, including informing members about its activities, policies and practices. Regarding transparency, a meeting has been scheduled for April to allow the proponents to present their ideas and hear members’ views and reactions, he said.

The facilitators on cotton, Mr Sergio Carvalho (Brazil) and Mr Emmanuel Ouali (Burkina Faso), reiterated that transparency is a first step towards achieving an outcome on cotton, as supported by the Cotton-4 members (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali). They said a technical session on cotton-related transparency was recently convened with positive results. More technical meetings will be organized to that end and they are convinced that a concrete proposal might be put on the table soon.

On public stockholding, the facilitator, Mr Craig Douglas (Jamaica), reported on the replies by members to the four questions he had posed to help untangle this complex issue. The questions focused on: changes that needed to be made to the Bali terms to obtain a mutually acceptable and relevant outcome; the key food security challenges faced by members that ought to be addressed;   the critical elements  that merited consideration; and how to balance food security needs with the need to prevent market distortions and to avoid undermining the food security of others. Members also considered non-trade concerns, such as climate change and environmental sustainability, and how they impacted on food security. The facilitator summed up some common positions and key divergences for further discussions.  The next meeting will be dedicated to the topic of notifications and transparency.

On the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), the facilitator, Ms Renata Cristaldo Oviedo (Paraguay), said that, based on her recent consultations, she will convene thematic meetings in the coming months on the following five topics: evaluation of import surges; triggers and cross check; remedies; scope; and transparency and other issues. These meetings, to be convened based on members’ inputs, would entail participation of both proponents and non-proponents.

Members’ discussions

About 40 members took the floor. Noting DG Okonjo-Iweala’s strong support for agriculture reform, many members expressed the hope that the new dynamics at the WTO could be translated into tangible results at the negotiating table. Most members also echoed the chair´s sense of urgency and her call to change gears in the discussions, with the emphasis on practical deliverables at MC12. Enhancing transparency across the topics under discussion and the WFP exemption initiative were considered by many as the most promising topics for an outcome at MC12.

Lively discussions continued on domestic support, one of the top priorities for most members. Several long-standing issues were discussed, including how to discipline trade-distorting domestic support (e.g. which subsidy categories should be targeted, and in which order), the ambition level, the key principles (proportionality vs. per-capita), special and differential treatment for developing members, and linkages to other negotiating issues (e.g. market access, public stockholding). Some members suggested that ministers should agree on a work programme on domestic support at MC12 in order to develop concrete results by MC13. One member warned that an overly detailed work programme would be difficult to negotiate.

Meanwhile, views were exchanged on what may be regarded as priority issues for the final agriculture package at MC12.  Several developing members insisted that priority should be given to public stockholding, the SSM and cotton. These are all vital in addressing the severe food security and livelihood challenges heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, they said. However, some members raised concerns over potential disguised “protectionism” in the form of new public stockholding programmes and the proposed special safeguard mechanism. One member suggested the public stockholding solution be considered as part of the larger deal on domestic support.

For cotton, the Cotton-4 agreed that enhancing transparency constituted an achievable next step, but stressed that the priority of the group remained disciplining trade-distorting support for cotton. Many members supported these views, with some focusing on a potential transparency outcome, while others reiterated the need to address trade-distorting support for cotton. Many developed and developing members supported an outcome on the WFP exemption, building upon the discussions that had taken place in December 2020. One member reiterated its views on the linkage between this issue and other negotiating topics, such as food aid and the public stockholding programme.

Some members maintained that progress in market access was essential for arriving at a balanced agriculture package at MC12. In this context, prioritizing discussions on transparency of applied tariff changes and treatment of ¨shipment en route¨ were highlighted by many; some others referred to ongoing work on a market access framework.  Several members supported a transparency-related outcome on export competition, with some of them recalling the “unfinished business” in this pillar. Several members also indicated that they were preparing new submissions on topics of interest and will share them with other members in coming months.

Overall evaluation of the chair

The chair commended the work of all facilitators. She called on members to inject a sense of urgency in the next phase of the negotiations by changing and deepening the nature of engagement. “Members should engage without further delay towards developing a shared understanding and consensus on the kind of results they expect and consider achievable on agriculture at MC12,” she said.

The chair asked members to enhance their creativity, flexibility and mutual understanding in complex priority issues such as domestic support. She welcomed the fruitful discussions in the recent market access meeting, saying the facilitator-led process is particularly useful for enhancing technical understanding of this important and technically complex pillar. She expressed the hope that progress could be made on the issue in the coming months, leading to a tangible outcome at MC12.

The chair lauded the proactive steps taken by the facilitator on transparency-related issues regarding export competition and supported building synergies between the discussions in the regular agriculture committee meetings and those in the negotiation committee meetings. Recalling that the WFP exemption is “a topic clearly identified by the new Director-General as a candidate for an outcome at MC12 in her opening speech”, the chair encouraged members to continue on the path towards resolving this and making progress on transparency and clarification-related elements on export restriction. On cotton, the chair asked members to intensify efforts to identify possible concrete inputs aimed at enhancing cotton-related transparency.

The chair noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have reinforced the calls made to find a permanent solution for the public stockholding issue. She pointed out that the key concerns remain linked to the trade-distorting potential of accumulated stocks when released, as well as their potential impact on the food security of other members. She acknowledged the important elements highlighted in the facilitators’ report and said she intends to hold more consultations in different formats, and work at all levels to advance both technically and politically to find a solution.

The chair reaffirmed the strong call from some members to achieve an outcome on the SSM at MC12 due to pandemic concerns. To address the major political challenges that link the SSM to market access, more technical work needs to be done. In that vein, she appreciated the facilitator’s plan to organize thematic discussions.

Looking forward, the chair urged members to submit new ideas and proposals as soon as possible to “impart a greater clarity and purpose to our negotiations across the various specific elements”. Moreover, “we should not lose sight, as noted by Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of the importance of our collective commitment to continue the reform process in agriculture for hundreds of millions of women, men and children in rural areas all over the world,” she said.