Draft chair’s text July 2021 for the WTO agriculture negotiations

Circulated by Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta on July 29, 2021

The draft aims for decisions at the November 30–December 3, 2021 ministerial conference (“MC12”)

See also
New agriculture draft suggests nervousness in divided WTO

By Peter Ungphakorn

Note: the official draft text is here with a small correction here. It was circulated on July 29 by Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta of Costa Rica, the present chair of the negotiations.

A revised version was circulated on November 23, 2021

The original starts with an assessment by the chair, with a long introduction, eight subject headings, and a conclusion. Then comes an annex with draft texts for decisions or agreements on each of those subjects.

Here, the text has been reorganised so the assessment and draft text for each subject are brought together under a single subject heading:

  1. Introduction (on this page)
  2. Domestic support and draft
  3. Market access and draft
  4. Export competition [where export subsidies might be hidden] and draft
  5. Export restrictions and draft
  6. Cotton and draft
  7. Special safeguard mechanism (SSM) and draft
  8. Public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH) [where purchases at government-set prices are trade-distorting domestic support] and draft
  9. Transparency and draft
  10. Conclusion (on this page)
29 July 2021
1          INTRODUCTIONBack to top

1.1.          One year has now passed since Members decided to place their confidence in me by appointing me as Chair of the WTO Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (CoA-SS). I remain deeply grateful to Members for the trust they have reposed in me, for their ongoing support and cooperation, and for their encouragement as I seek to navigate the obstacles that we encounter on our shared journey towards our collective goal of strengthening the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) to make it responsive to the challenges facing the agricultural trading system. At all times throughout this process, I have remained acutely conscious of the enormous responsibility that this role entails, and of the great difficulties we all face in this challenging period, and I would like to take this opportunity to reassure Members that I do not underestimate the complexity of our collective endeavour, or its significance.

1.2.         During this past year, I have listened carefully and attentively to Members’ expectations and concerns — as well as their assessments of what they consider to be desirable and feasible — in our pursuit of our overall objectives. I have done so in the meetings of the CoA-SS, my consultations with regional groups and coalitions, and my bilateral talks with individual Members. I am very much aware that any outcome from our negotiations has to be the product of Members’ own engagement with one another and has to reflect their own assessment of how best to reconcile their objectives and sensitivities with what is realistic and achievable, taking account of their own understanding of other Members’ objectives and sensitivities, as well as the broader negotiating context.

1.3.          It is with this in mind that I would like to share today an initial draft text which I sincerely hope will be of value to Members as they seek to make further progress in our negotiations in the run-up to the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in November. The draft reflects and builds upon my recent report on the way forward towards MC12, which assessed the “state of play” in the negotiations1 in light of the valuable work of the Facilitators and the reports they submitted on their respective negotiating topics. The draft text also takes into account the submissions that have been tabled since then, as well as the comments and reflections which Members have made in their interventions in negotiating sessions.

1 JOB/AG/202

1.4.         I would therefore like to invite you to consider this text as a tool for you to use to build convergence on our shared aims in this process. As such, it is simply a steppingstone for us to move forward on our journey. In a number of areas, it seeks to identify options which Members could consider, thereby sketching out the contours for possible compromises and trade-offs within and across negotiating areas. It represents my honest efforts to identify potential broad “landing zones” which could attract convergence. The text takes into account the range of views that have been expressed by Members and seeks to chart a way forward with this in mind. It is not intended to be a perfect representation of what can and should be achieved, nor to summarize all the views expressed by Members: indeed, it is only a tool for you to engage with one another in a constructive exchange, collectively using this text as a reference to work toward an MC12 agricultural outcome.

1.5.         Of course, Members’ views continue to diverge — including on critical issues. With that in mind, is now the right time to present a draft text of this sort? In my view, it is precisely such divergences, which have persisted after months of intense discussions and more than 25 new submissions, that make a draft text timely. Given the limited time left before MC12, it is my hope that such a text could prompt us to change gear and engage in focused, text-based negotiations aimed at delivering concrete outcomes when we return in September.

1.6.         I fully acknowledge that some submissions were introduced only very recently or are still under preparation and will be discussed in the fall. As I mentioned before, this text is only a tool: it is a living document which will evolve over time as a result of your future inputs and negotiations.

1.7.         Square brackets are used in a number of places for a variety of purposes, to reflect Members’ inputs, suggest alternatives or possible formulations. Where text is not in square brackets, this does not convey any degree of acceptance by Members.

1.8.         Before presenting briefly the different elements of the draft text and the rationale behind them, I believe this is also an opportune time to take stock, by looking back on the road we have travelled so far, reminding ourselves of our agreed destination, and reconsidering what has changed around us since we first set off.

1.9.         A quarter-century has now passed since the ink dried on the signatures to the AoA, and the commitment in Article 20 thereof to continue the reform process that was initiated under the Uruguay Round. The objectives set out in that Article remain as valid today as they did at that time. Today, as then, Members share the goal of establishing a “fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system”. Today, as then, they are committed to pursuing negotiations with a view to progressively reducing support and protection. And today, as then, they wish to take account of and accommodate the interests of all Members, including special and differential treatment of developing countries, the non-trade concerns of Members such as food security, and the protection of the environment.

1.10.       WTO Members can reasonably take some pride in the fact that their efforts to date have led to the agreement in Nairobi in 2015 to abolish export subsidies and set rules for other forms of farm export support — thereby achieving concrete progress on one of the explicit commitments made under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2). They also demonstrated, in Bali in 2013, that they could reach agreement on the issues of public stockholding for food security purposes and the administration of tariff rate quotas as part of a broader package. However, we are all aware that this is not enough, as the mandate in Article 20 is expansive and much more rigorous. There is therefore a lot of pending work.

1.11.        And since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round in 1995, markets for food and agriculture have grown progressively integrated. According to the FAO, trade in food and agriculture has more than doubled in real terms, with the share of trade between developing countries also growing at a rapid rate. Average incomes have risen, with millions of people lifted out of poverty and hunger, as reflected in the publications of the FAO and other International Organizations. A proliferation of bilateral and regional trade agreements has accompanied this process, as countries seek to improve access to markets and deepen integration with their trading partners — both in neighbouring regions and further afield.

1.12.       However, while we have indeed started off together down the road we agreed to travel, we should also recognize that there is still rather a long way left to go — and that we will need to pick up our pace if we are to successfully conclude the negotiations and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives around the world. Markets for food and agriculture still remain highly distorted and protected. All too often, they function poorly — with the most vulnerable producers and consumers those that pay the highest price. In many regions, persistent underinvestment in the farm sector has led to low and declining yields, and to stagnant incomes for people living in rural areas deepening poverty in some areas. And climate change is creating new challenges for market actors with changing temperature and precipitation patterns and more frequent and intense extreme weather events compounding existing problems, such as food insecurity.

1.13.        There is indeed no room for complacency about the task before us. United Nations agencies have recently reported that, in the last few years, progress tackling hunger and malnutrition has been reversed, with economic downturns exacerbating the impacts of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change. This grim news undermines the likelihood that we will achieve by 2030 the SDGs targets on ending hunger and malnutrition. WTO Members can and should contribute to improving how food and agriculture markets function by redoubling their efforts to achieve an outcome at MC12.

1.14.       Such an outcome will not be a comprehensive solution to all the problems facing food and agricultural markets today. But, very importantly, it can and must contribute to rebuilding confidence among governments and other actors in our collective ability to rise to the challenges we face and work together to address them. It is urgent for us to lay out a pathway forward to guide our future work and set out markers for what we wish to achieve together, including at subsequent Ministerial Conferences. It is important to enhance engagement, establish and demonstrate political commitment and set out a direction for future progress. And it is our responsibility to contribute to the broader collective effort to rebuild more inclusive and sustainable economies as we all work to overcome the pandemic and lay the foundations for a more resilient future. Action is needed now with long-term perspective in mind.

1.15.       With this in mind, I would like to introduce the draft text I have prepared, under my own responsibility, for each of the seven negotiating areas in which we have been pursuing work to date, as well as on transparency. As previously stated, this text is without prejudice to Member’s positions in the negotiations and should be considered as an instrument to support Members’ engagement after the summer break.

10        CONCLUSIONBack to top

10.1.       Let me now conclude with a few words on the way forward.

10.2.       The draft text will soon be circulated to you along with my explanation. The next CoA Special Session meeting is scheduled for 7-8 September. The main objective of this meeting is to give you an opportunity to provide your initial comments and discuss the way forward.

10.3.       On my side, I will reconvene my consultations in various configurations to prepare the ground for the continuation of our negotiation process during the fall and prepare for the next CoA-SS meeting. As always, my door remains open for any Member willing to contact me.

10.4.       I invite you to take advantage of the summer break to study this text carefully in a constructive spirit. As already mentioned, we will have less than three months left before MC12 when we come back from vacation. We need also to be mindful that Members will be negotiating other topics in parallel to agriculture.

10.5.       The moment has come to find compromises and solutions, and to adapt our expectations, where appropriate. It is my sincere hope that this text will help Members to chart a way forward in the negotiations.

10.6.      I encourage you to use this text to intensify negotiations with each other. My role as Chair is not to negotiate with you, it is to facilitate negotiations amongst you as this is the only way for an agreement to be reached at MC12 and beyond. I will remain an honest broker and count on your full support as we enter into the last stretch of the negotiation. Working together and exercising the necessary flexibility, we can achieve a credible outcome on agriculture at MC12.

10.7.       I expect you to enhance your engagements after the summer by having focused and interactive discussions and avoiding repeating long held positions. We need to keep in view the broader objective of having these negotiations, which can make a difference in people’s lives.

10.8.       I thank you.

Updates: None so far
Image credit: Background aerial shot of farmland | Julian Ebert, Unsplash, CCO

Author: Peter Ungphakorn

I used to work at the WTO Secretariat (1996–2015), and am now an occasional freelance journalist, focusing mainly on international trade rules, agreements and institutions. (Previously, analysis for AgraEurope.) Trade β Blog is for trialling ideas on trade and any other subject, hence “β”. You can respond by using the contact form on the blog or tweeting @CoppetainPU

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