WTO Members Discuss Africa Group Proposal on Farm Trade Talks




[ABS News Service/10.07.2024]

The Chair of the WTO's agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Alparslan Acarsoy of Türkiye, invited members to share details of their ongoing efforts to reinvigorate talks on agricultural trade at a meeting of the Agriculture Committee on 5 July. He also encouraged them to share their thoughts on how the negotiations can be resumed after the summer break.

With WTO members unable to agree on how to move ahead in the long-running talks on agriculture at the organisation’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) this February in Abu Dhabi, trade officials have recently been informally exploring with one another options for restarting the talks.

Reporting on his recent consultations with members, the Chair concluded that future work would be shaped by the outcomes of discussions led by Brazil around its proposed General Council Decision (WT/GC/W/931), and by deliberations on a separate proposal (JOB/AG/260) by the African Group.

Since April, Brazil has spearheaded an informal process aimed at garnering support for a roadmap to be adopted at the General Council meeting scheduled for 22-23 July. On 1 July, the African Group circulated a proposal outlining its position on agriculture negotiations.

The Chair also expressed the view that "intensive preliminary work among different groups of members" is needed to ensure efficient and productive discussions aimed at narrowing gaps and identifying potential areas of convergence. He encouraged members to come up with new ideas and proposals to spur meaningful discussions.

Following a call by the Cotton-4 countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), the Chair also expressed his readiness to resume the talks on cotton sector reform after the summer break, in the "Quad-Plus" format. This brings together West African countries that have advocated reform - the Cotton-4 countries – alongside other major players, including Australia, Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Pakistan, and the United States.

At the meeting, the African Group presented its submission, highlighting the Group's priorities for the negotiations. The Group stressed in particular the importance of maintaining flexibilities that would enable vulnerable countries to strengthen food and livelihood security, and of preserving special treatment for developing members.

Members provided preliminary feedback on the African Group’s paper. Many welcomed the contribution, with several emphasizing the need to find common ground between this proposal and Brazil's one as they were also supportive of the General Council process led by Brazil. Several members also stressed the importance of aiming at a balanced outcome in July that would not prejudge the future outcome of the negotiations. Brazil outlined its engagement with the African Group to incorporate key elements of the latter's new submission into its proposed roadmap for the talks.

Australia informed delegates that, since April, substantial work has been conducted through informal weekly discussions between the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries and the African Group. Brazil added that, in these discussions, trade officials have delved into technical details, including those related to subsidy reduction formulas; limits on product-specific support; “green box” programmes (deemed under current rules to cause no more than minimal trade distortion); and the procurement of food at administered prices under developing countries’ public stockholding programmes.

Addressing new challenges: Agriculture Workshop

The Chair heard members' key takeaways from the workshop held on 2-3 July, which explored new challenges related to sustainability, food security, and poverty reduction, as well as potential new avenues for ongoing negotiations on agricultural trade rules at the WTO.

Members welcomed the insightful, data-rich, and highly engaging workshop organized by the WTO Secretariat. Many considered that the event had brought useful food for thought, with some considering that it would be useful to pursue further discussions of this kind in the future.

"The discussion confirmed that all members are committed to updating the multilateral trading system so that it can ensure food security in a sustainable manner for all, now and in the future, taking into account economic, social and environmental dimensions," the Chair said.

The challenge now is to transform these shared objectives into disciplines, he added.