On February 23, 2022, WTO members meeting as the General Council
agreed to reschedule the Ministerial Conference for the week of June 13
Pre-ministerial draft shows little to harvest in WTO farm talks
By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 9, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 24, 2022
Note: the official draft text is available as a public document here. It was circulated on November 23, 2021 by Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta of Costa Rica, the present chair of the negotiations. See the WTO news story of November 25 on the release and discussion.
As with the version from July, the new docusment starts with an assessment by the chair, with an introduction, eight subject headings, and a conclusion. Then come annexes, the main one with a draft text covering all the eight headings — originally eight separate draft decisions — followed by a draft decision on exempting the World Food Programme from export restrictions.
In these pages, the text has been reorganised so the assessment and draft text for each subject are brought together under a single subject heading on a single page:
- Introduction and draft preamble (on this page)
- Domestic support and draft
- Market access and draft
- Export competition [where export subsidies might be hidden] and draft
- Export restrictions and draft (including decision on World Food Programme)
- Cotton and draft
- Special safeguard mechanism (SSM) and draft
- Public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH) [where purchases at government-set prices are trade-distorting domestic support] and draft
- Transparency and draft
- Conclusion (on this page)
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE IN SPECIAL SESSION
REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON, H.E. MS GLORIA ABRAHAM PERALTA,
TO THE TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE
19 November 2021
1.1 This report — which I am sharing with the entire Membership — captures the progress we have made in the negotiations thus far, and my assessment of where the main fault lines are in the positions of Members in the outstanding areas. Attached to it, in the Annex, is a revised draft negotiating text on agriculture resulting from all my consultations with Members in different configurations and all the inputs received in this process.
1.2 I am sharing this revised draft text under my own responsibility. I would like to emphasize that it does not purport to reflect consensus among Members, neither on the negotiations in their entirety nor on the specific negotiating topics. Furthermore, while it seeks to take into consideration the positions expressed by all WTO Members on all topics in the negotiations to date, it also does not seek to reflect these positions exhaustively. The content of my report is entirely without prejudice to any Member’s position on any of the negotiating issues.
1.3 When I circulated the previous draft negotiating text in July (JOB/AG/215), I urged Members to see it as a tool to advance their work. I am pleased to be able to report that Members have done precisely that, and used it as a reference for their engagement with one another on the outstanding issues, taking also into account their own submissions. In the discussions, Members have willingly shared proposals that they considered necessary to address their concerns, exploring ways to find possible options to reflect their previous submissions and identifying the most promising paths forward towards consensus.
1.4 During this period, I organized five meetings of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session1 back-to-back with dedicated sessions on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes and on the Special Safeguard Mechanism, including two at the Heads of Delegation level, open to the full WTO Membership.
1 On 7-8 September, 20-21 September, 14-15 October, 28 October and 15 November. See my reports in documents JOB/AG/217, JOB/AG/221, JOB/AG/222, and JOB/AG/223
1.5 I also had multiple bilateral meetings with individual Members and held numerous consultations with smaller groups of Members in various formats and on different topics. Of particular importance was the “room D” process held during the month of October, during which Members engaged constructively in intensive text-based discussions based on the draft text circulated at the end of July, and on Members’ various additional inputs.2 The pace of my consultations intensified during the month of November.
2 A compilation of textual inputs by Members was circulated in document RD/AG/89/222, and JOB/AG/223
1.6 In order to ensure a transparent and inclusive process, I also met throughout this period with the coordinators of negotiating groups, in addition to the open-ended meetings.
1.7 Last but not least, the negotiation process was also informed and enriched by contacts made between different groups of Members as they explored with one another compromise options to narrow gaps in negotiating positions. Many valuable inputs were produced as a result of this process.
1.8 I am extremely grateful to Members for their tireless efforts and constructive attitude in the talks thus far. To the extent that the revised draft negotiating text represents a useful contribution to the preparations for the Ministerial Conference, credit is due to the hard work, determination, and good faith of Members.
1.9 Notwithstanding this intense engagement, we have not made as much progress as we had anticipated on some key issues, especially Domestic Support, Public Stockholding and Market Access.
1.10 Members have thus not yet been able to agree on detailed and specific outcomes on several negotiating topics. In some instances, positions still diverge. I will provide my more detailed topic-by-topic assessment in the subsequent sections of this paper. Members have also struggled to find ways to identify a balance across negotiating topics that they consider mutually acceptable.
1.11 I urge Members to acknowledge the gaps in negotiating positions, as well as the implications these have for our ability to move forward on our shared agenda. It is against this background that I have decided to issue the revised draft text in the Annex. The options it contains have been carefully drafted based on Members’ inputs and suggestions, as well as positions expressed during my consultations.
1.12 The text covers the seven main negotiating areas, namely agricultural domestic support, market access, export competition, export restrictions, cotton, the special safeguard mechanism, public stockholding for food security purposes, as well as the cross-cutting issue of transparency. Following the suggestion by several Members, it also includes an introductory part, which is meant to provide context for our negotiations and the different topics covered.
1.13 I am sure that this text will be considered by many Members as not ideal, as it does not fully reflect their initial ambitions. It is indeed a more streamlined and less ambitious version than what I initially had in mind. But all Members’ positions have to be respected and balanced in a fair manner. This text reflects the reality of where we are today. It acknowledges the current state of play in Members’ positions and the difficulties we face in building convergence or narrowing the gaps on some key issues.
1.14 This text therefore constitutes my best attempt to put on the table a balanced and realistic package that could garner the support of all Members for an outcome which all may be able to accept. I firmly believe this text would represent a significant step forward.
1.15 The basic premise of this text is that all Members share a commitment and a desire to continue the agriculture negotiations after the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) despite the continued divergence in their negotiating positions on some specific questions. This text therefore aims at sending a clear signal of this shared commitment by finding a realistic compromise that preserves Members’ main interests and prepares for a fruitful post-MC12 negotiation by providing Members with as much guidance as possible under the circumstances.
1.16 It is our collective responsibility to present to Ministers a text that is manageable. We cannot present them with a text that reflects significant divergence in negotiating positions and still expect them to bridge these in just a few days — especially when we have not been able to do so over a period of several months.
1.17 It is important that we all bear in mind our shared resolve and commitment to deliver a successful outcome on trade in food and agriculture at the Ministerial Conference. Such an outcome is needed to ensure that trade contributes to progress on the goals that Members have set out in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), including under Article 20 and the objectives and concerns set out in the Agreement’s Preamble. It is also needed more broadly for other reasons: to ensure that trade contributes towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 2 on hunger, food security and nutrition, and sustainable agriculture; to lay the foundations for our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and to enable our effective response to new challenges such as climate change, which is already having significant effects on global markets. This context is articulated in the proposed introductory part of the draft text.
1.18 At MC12, success will therefore demonstrate that WTO Members can take steps forward together and reaffirm their commitment towards the achievement of our shared objectives on food and agriculture — and will prove the WTO’s relevance in today’s world.
1.19 The following sections of my report present the various elements of the draft negotiating text, which I sincerely hope will be considered a useful contribution to our collective endeavour to reach a positive outcome on agriculture.
Having regard to paragraph 1 of Article IX of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization;
Recalling the long-term objective to establish a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system and to provide for substantial progressive reductions in agricultural support and protection sustained over an agreed period of time, resulting in correcting and preventing restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets as stated in the Preamble of the Agreement on Agriculture;
1. We, the Ministers, have met in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December 2021 at our Twelfth Session of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, and have adopted the following declaration on trade, food, and agriculture.
2. We recall the objectives set out in the Preamble to the Agreement on Agriculture, and strongly reaffirm our commitment to continue the reform process under Article 20 of this Agreement.
3. Accordingly, we reiterate our shared objective of establishing a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system, and our commitment to substantial progressive reductions in support and protection. We acknowledge that special and differential treatment for developing countries is an integral element of the negotiations, and agree to have particular regard to the needs of the least-developed among them. Non-trade concerns, including food security and the protection of the environment shall also be taken into account in the negotiations, as well as the possible negative effects of the implementation of the reform programme on least-developed and net food-importing developing countries.
4. We underscore the vital role trade can play in the achievement of food security and nutrition, including through improving availability of food where it is scarce, and facilitating access to food by creating jobs and raising incomes, particularly for the poor.
5. We also commit to ensuring that open and predictable markets for food and agricultural products support the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. We recognize the progress that has been made towards overcoming poverty and malnutrition since the adoption of the Agreement on Agriculture. We note with concern that economic downturns, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and climate variability and extremes have undermined this progress in recent years.
7. We reaffirm our conviction that WTO agriculture negotiations continuing the reform process under Article 20 of this Agreement should support progress towards the targets set out under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including to improve food security and nutrition, encourage sustainable agriculture and food systems, and enable an improved agricultural policy response to the climate crisis through both mitigation and adaptation actions.
8. We commend the achievements in the negotiations to date, and in particular the contribution they have made towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2.
9. We are also conscious of the considerable work that remains to be done in order to make progress on our shared objectives in the area of food and agriculture, particularly to reinforce the positive contribution that trade makes to people’s lives. We therefore resolve to improve the functioning of global markets for food and agriculture and reaffirm our commitment to correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets.
10. We therefore resolve to intensify our negotiations and continue our work under all the topics as described in the following paragraphs/decisions, with a view to reaching substantial results by MC13.
10.1 Members will have an opportunity to comment on the draft text contained in the Annex during the next meeting of the CoA Special Session on 25 November.
10.2 This meeting will be critical as it will take place less than a week before the opening of the Ministerial Conference and negotiation will soon be taken over at the Ministerial level.
10.3 As stated on several occasions, this text is our collective text, representing the results of our work in recent weeks.
10.4 My sincere hope is that it constitutes a significant step forward in the right direction to help Ministers in their task at MC12.
10.5 As you consider it, I also invite you to keep in mind that it does not represent the end of the road for our negotiations, but rather a major confidence-building milestone to reinvigorate the negotiation process towards MC13 and future ministerial conferences. As such, it would reaffirm the credibility of the WTO and its capacity to seriously and constructively address contemporary challenges faced by the food and agriculture system.
10.6 For my part, I remain fully committed to facilitating convergence, and will do everything humanly possible to work with Members to achieve a positive outcome on agriculture at MC12.
10.7 If Members can continue to demonstrate commitment, goodwill and flexibility, a successful Ministerial Conference is within reach. Let us remain focused on that goal and redouble our efforts to ensure that the success of MC12 enables trade to contribute positively to the achievement of our shared objectives for the future.
Updates: February 24, 2022 — adding dates of rescheduled Ministerial Conference
Image credit: Background aerial shot of farmland | Johny Goerend, Unsplash licence