8. Public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH) in November 2021 draft agriculture negotiations text

Little sign of convergence in the draft WTO agriculture text, November 19, 2021 | farming, Luxembourg (Johny Goerend, Unsplash)

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Pre-ministerial draft shows little to harvest in WTO farm talks

Previous: 7. special safeguard mechanism (SSM) | next: 9. transparency

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 9, 2021 | UPDATED DECEMBER 9, 2021

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. Links to all sections are here.

This page combines the two sections of the text on public stockholding for food security purposes, the chair’s assessment, and her drafts.

The July draft contained alternative proposals. One was a long and detailed text complete with notification templates. The other was much shorter. Both have been dropped, leaving three short paragraphs on continuing efforts. Members even disagreed on what to do with no sign of a breakthrough (paragraph 8.6 below).

Note also that neither public stockholding nor food security are at issue here. It’s about purchases into the stocks at government-set prices, which comes under trade-distorting domestic support. Explained here.

The chair calls this “the most difficult issue in the agriculture negotiations”.

8          PUBLIC STOCKHOLDING FOR FOOD SECURITY PURPOSES (PSH)

8.1          Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes (PSH) has remained a priority issue for the proponents, who have repeatedly stressed its usefulness as a tool for addressing food security and rural livelihoods, especially in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The proponents have also stressed that the deadline for the adoption of a permanent solution at the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in 2017 was missed and a solution is therefore long overdue. They have therefore urged Members to adopt of a permanent solution by MC12 that is simple, efficient, and broader in programme and product coverage.

8.2          While Members acknowledge the Bali and Nairobi Ministerial mandates to find a permanent solution and recognize the potential role of PSH programmes in supporting food security, the non-proponents remain particularly concerned about potential trade distortions and unlimited market price support beyond the Uruguay Round commitment levels. These Members argue therefore that parallel progress is needed on domestic support, and consider that more information is needed on actual use of PSH programmes. Several Members have also underscored that PSH programmes represent one tool among many that can be used to ensure food security, and that the least trade-distorting measures should be prioritized. Transparency requirements and safeguards are considered crucial to providing these Members with reassurances against any unintended consequences.

8.3          Given the persistent wide gaps in Members’ views, this question has turned out to be the most difficult issue in the agriculture negotiations. It has become increasingly evident that it would be difficult for an agreement on a permanent solution to be reached at MC12. I have therefore tried to determine what could be done in the interim.

8.4          In my first draft (JOB/AG/215), I had suggested two options, i.e., Option 1 for a permanent solution, and Option 2 for a work plan and an expansion of the Bali Interim Solution to LDCs. In my consultations, I had also tested other ideas, such as expanding the Bali Interim Solution for five years to new programmes of all developing Members, provided the procured quantity did not exceed 15% of the volume of production of the relevant product. Another possibility was for this option to be restricted only to developing country Members that did not benefit from the Bali Interim Solution. One more idea broached in my consultations was the option for developing countries to submit a request to the Committee on Agriculture for their PSH programmes to benefit from the Bali Interim Solution, in recognition of the food security challenges faced by developing countries particularly as a result of COVID-19.

8.5          There was strong resistance to these ideas from different sides. A number of Members nevertheless indicated that they could envisage an expansion of the Bali Interim Solution to cover LDCs. This view was strongly opposed by several developing country Members who objected to what they considered as an increasing trend in the WTO to distinguish among developing countries. They insisted that the proposed intermediary step should be extended to all developing country Members. A few non-developing country Members also objected to the LDC proposal, leading me to conclude that there was not broad support for it. Accordingly, I have deleted it from my revised draft text.

8.6         My assessment that it would be extremely difficult to achieve a permanent solution at MC12 was not shared by some developing country Members, who insisted that I forward this issue to Ministers for their consideration and decision.6 Several Members strongly objected to this proposed course of action, notably due to the lack of detailed technical work on elements for a permanent solution and the absence of parallel progress on domestic support. Consequently, given the stalemate, my recommendation to Ministers is for the adoption of a work programme with a view to agreeing on a permanent solution by MC13. I also propose that the General Council regularly reviews progress in these negotiations. Given the importance attached to the PSH issue by several developing country Members, Ministers may, if they so wish, consider revisiting it, bearing in mind the significant divergent positions as outlined above, among the Membership.

6 Two proposals have recently been made by the proponents for a permanent solution, one by the African Group (JOB/AG/204, 12 July 2021) and the other by G33 Members (JOB/AG/214, 28 July 2021 and JOB/AG/214/Rev.1, 16 September 2021).


Compare with the May 2022 text (3 paragraphs)
Compare with July 2021 text

PUBLIC STOCKHOLDING FOR FOOD SECURITY PURPOSES (PSH)
IN DRAFT MINISTERIAL DECISION

44.          We note the Ministerial Decision of 7 December 2013 (WT/MIN(13)/38 – WT/L/913), the General Council Decision of 27 November 2014 (WT/L/939) and the Ministerial Decision of 21 December 2015 (WT/MIN(15)/44 – WT/L/979).

45.          We undertake to intensify our negotiations and make all concerted efforts to agree and adopt a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by MC13, taking into account existing and future submissions by Members. The negotiations shall continue to be held in dedicated sessions of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session.

46.         The General Council shall regularly review progress in these negotiations.


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Image credit: Background aerial shot of farmland | Johny Goerend, Unsplash licence

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