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Progress Made In Doha Agriculture Talks

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

23 November 2012

Doha Round negotiators have made considerable progress towards a shared objective of agreeing at least some elements of an outline agreement on agriculture before the WTO's December 2013 Ministerial Conference to be held in Indonesia, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has reported.

Summarizing negotiations since the WTO's last plenary on September 28, 2012, the Chair of the agriculture talks, John Adank said that "consultations on a proposal for managing quotas for lower-tariff imports had shown that agriculture negotiators consider an early deal in their subject to be crucial if similar efforts are to succeed in other areas, but some sensitivities remain."

He reported that a proposal from the Group of 20 (G-20) developing countries - an alliance in the WTO agriculture talks - would seek early agreement on tighter disciplines for administering tariff-rate quotas. Tariff-rate quotas allow for a lower rate of duty to be placed on quantities of goods traded inside a quota, while those exceeding the quota are exposed to higher rates of duty. Some countries argue that the way that quotas are managed (including the methods for allocating the quotas to importers or exporters, and various other administrative practices), can be too cumbersome and hamper exporters' ability to access markets.

The G-20 developing countries alliance's proposal envisages a number of measures for sharing information and monitoring how well quotas are used. If a quota is persistently under-filled, the importing government would have to apply one of a prescribed set of methods for administering quotas aimed at removing impediments.

More recently the G-33 group of developing countries - which seeks extra special treatment to protect their poor farmers, with Indonesia as the coordinator - has also proposed adopting provisions that would loosen domestic support disciplines in order to enhance food security by supporting poor farmers.

The G-33's food security proposal seeks early approval for new provisions allowing government stockholding and purchases from poor farmers at supported prices to be excluded from calculations of the type of domestic support, which has to be limited because it distorts markets.

Gauging support for the proposals, Adank noted that members had said they understand the importance of the topics but had also voiced concern about backing proposals before other agriculture topics had been covered, on concerns that the provisions may not mesh.

Adank said he was encouraged by members' "willingness to engage" in the consultations on the proposal for managing tariff quotas. He said it showed members from the full range of positions in the talks recognize that agriculture remains crucial, "even if the consultations have predictably revealed a range of sensitivities" about being selective.

On the G-20's proposal for managing tariff quotas, he said: "It's fair to say that I have not heard 'no' from any member on the idea that tighter disciplines for administering tariff-rate quotas might form part of a broader range of Doha-related decisions taken forward next year, even if it's not possible to say that there has been an unreserved 'yes' to the specific proposal of the G-20."

In respect of the G-33 proposal, opinion among the G-20 countries was mixed but all speakers acknowledged the importance of food security, particularly in the present climate of high prices.

The Doha Round, which began more than a decade ago, aims to cut trade-distorting agriculture subsidies, phase out tariffs on industrial goods, open trade in services, facilitate customs operations, adjust anti-dumping rules, and offer duty-free and quota-free access to the exports of the world's poorest countries among many other goals.

TAGS: tax | tariffs | World Trade Organisation (WTO) | food | trade

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