The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture

Less attention has been paid to this failure. It sheds light on what may lie ahead as members face more difficult hurdles on really tough issues.

See also
WTO members achieve breakthrough, but the tough part is what happens next | Have we just seen the funeral of the WTO ‘single undertaking’? | Our scorecards

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 4, 2022 | UPDATED JULY 10, 2022

The June 12–17 Ministerial Conference has been hailed as a rare success for the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it produced a package of new agreements and consensus statements on a range of issues, including fisheries conservation, health, electronic commerce and food insecurity.

Less attention has been paid to the Geneva meeting’s big failure. There was no outcome on agriculture. That should not be overlooked. It has implications not only for agriculture, but for members’ ability to reach consensus on really tough issues.

Continue reading “The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture”
Advertisement

Touch and go at the WTO. Is the director-general’s optimism justified?

The meaning of “success” is not the same for the Ministerial Conference’s organisers as it is for outsiders

By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED JUNE 9, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 12, 2022

How many times can a curtain go up and down? This is our second curtain-raiser for the World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference, now rescheduled for June 12–15, 2022.

As we wrote when the meeting was postponed in late 2021, the WTO risks disappearing into a chasm of petty procedural wrangling over what to talk about, and how to move forward.

After delays in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and more recently the threat to multilateralism posed by Russia, the fact of it happening at all will be taken as a success. But have WTO members been able to move closer to significant agreement on anything?

This time our curtain-raiser proposes some benchmarks for assessment. There’s even a scorecard at the end for anyone following along at home.

Continue reading “Touch and go at the WTO. Is the director-general’s optimism justified?”

WTO farm talks head into 2022 with lots of ‘will’ but not much ‘way’

The fate of the chair’s draft lies in the balance as members declare commitment to the talks but remain as divided as ever

UPDATE
May 19, 2022 informal negotiations meeting: in preparation for the re-scheduled Ministerial Conference: Twitter thread (food security, export restrictions, public stockholding, agriculture negotiations as a whole).

March 21, 2022 negotiations meeting: Twitter thread, WTO news story, chair’s statement on consultations (public stockholding, special safeguard mechanism, agriculture negotiations as a whole, including a proposed session on food security)

May 31, 2022: new draft texts circulated ahead of the June 12–15 re-scheduled Ministerial Conference.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 25, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 8, 2022

WTO agriculture negotiations started the year 2022 with members taking stock of where the talks were and how they might proceed, after a year of hard and intensive work that produced new proposals, but no change in fundamental, deadlocked positions.

The momentum had been created as negotiators strove to present common ground for the Ministerial Conference, scheduled for November 30–December 3, 2021, but postponed because of travel and other restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An informal negotiation meeting on January 24, 2022, cast doubt on the fate of the only attempt to reflect the current state of the talks in a single text, according to a trade official in Geneva — “to be or not to be”, the official said.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks head into 2022 with lots of ‘will’ but not much ‘way’”

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

21 years of talking with little sign of convergence on remaining topics in agriculture

UPDATES
See “WTO farm talks head into 2022 with lots of ‘will’ but not much ‘way’
and May 31, 2022, pre-Ministerial Conference drafts (agriculture decision, food security declaration, and exempting the World Food programme from export restrictions decision)

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 9, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 8, 2021

A week bef0re the now-postponed World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference was due to start, WTO agriculture negotiators received a revised draft from Gloria Abraham Peralta, Costa Rica’s ambassador and the talks’ chair.

The new assessment and draft text is still in the form of a proposed decision for the ministers. It was circulated on November 23, 2021. The conference was postponed three days later on November 26. It was due to take place on November 30–December 3.

The new text was slimmed down from the 27 pages of the July 29 text, to 16 pages, still covering eight topics. This was not because gaps between members’ positions had narrowed. Rather, some issues had proved so intractable that the chair had simply thrown out large chunks of text.




[Public stockholding] has turned out to be the most difficult issue in the agriculture negotiations

— Gloria Abraham Peralta

The page-count was also reduced by combining eight separate draft decisions into one single text.

One commentator has slammed the draft for being completely empty.

“It has absolutely nothing in it. Basically, it says: We will negotiate on market access. We will negotiate on export competition. We will negotiate on domestic support. And not much else,” wrote Australian trade lawyer Brett Williams on the International Economic Law and Policy Blog.

That is a bit harsh. WTO members and their chair had worked hard in the previous months.

Continue reading “Pre-ministerial draft shows little to harvest in WTO farm talks”

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

Circulated by Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta on November 19, 2021

New dates
On February 23, 2022, WTO members meeting as the General Council
agreed to reschedule the Ministerial Conference for the week of June 13

See also
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:

  1. Introduction and draft preamble (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 (including decision on World Food Programme)
  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)
Continue reading “Draft chair’s text November 2021 for the WTO agriculture negotiations”

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

Circulated by Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta on July 29, 2021

See also
New agriculture draft suggests nervousness in divided WTO

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 3, 2021 | UPDATED AUGUST 3, 2021

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)
Continue reading “Draft chair’s text July 2021 for the WTO agriculture negotiations”

New agriculture draft suggests nervousness in divided WTO

Never before in 21 years of the WTO agriculture negotiations has a chair’s text been circulated as a secret document

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 30, 2021 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 18, 2021

This has now been revised throughout, based on the actual text

As the World Trade Organization began its 2021 summer break, Gloria Abraham Peralta, Costa Rica’s ambassador and WTO agriculture negotiations chair, circulated her first draft negotiating text, stressing that delegates will need to move quickly to compromise and make a difference to people’s lives.

The 27-page draft, covering eight topics, is designed to focus negotiators’ attentions on what might be agreed at the November 30–December 3 WTO Ministerial Conference, three months after they return in September. It shows members are as divided as ever with little convergence after months of work.

The text is not a public document, but it has been leaked. It was circulated on July 29, 2021 as a restricted document, the first time a chair has done that since the agriculture negotiations began over two decades ago, in 2000.

Continue reading “New agriculture draft suggests nervousness in divided WTO”

WTO agriculture talks 2021: where ambition and cynicism collide

Prospects and developments in the WTO agriculture negotiations in 2021

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 4, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 29, 2021

A strange atmosphere surrounds the agriculture talks in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which resumed on Friday February 5, 2021 and continued through to July, as members to submitted numerous new proposals on a wide range of issues. Consensus stays blocked, even on subjects that ought to be simple.

Continue reading “WTO agriculture talks 2021: where ambition and cynicism collide”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 2 What’s been happening

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 2

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2020

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

Fears that the pandemic would lead to a flood of export restrictions and other disruptive policies have proved to be largely unfounded. The main impact has been from travel restrictions and other measures aimed directly at preventing the disease from spreading.

This is the second part of the series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO, and prospects for 2021. It looks at what’s been happening inside and outside the organisation, before continuing on to possible work ahead.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 2 What’s been happening”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 3 Trust and understanding

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 3

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 21, 2021

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

It may seem strange to start an examination of WTO policy responses by discussing process. But paying attention to it might be necessary to break out of the current rut and to actually end up with agreement.

JUMP TO
Process
Towards a work programme
Export restrictions
Domestic support | Green Box | Amber Box
Market access
Labour
Conclusion

This is the third and final part of the series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO. This part looks at what might be achieved in the short term, and how.

The main emphasis is “in the WTO” because a lot of the ideas floating around are outside the WTO’s role. We might think they are “good ideas” (or we might not), but there’s not much point in pushing them in the WTO if the WTO is irrelevant.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 3 Trust and understanding”