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Bid to Move World Trade Talks Forward

GLOBAL - Negotiators in the World Trade Organisation need more time to reflect on how to move the farm talks forward, according to the chairman of the negotiation panel, John Adank, New Zealands ambassador.

WTO members last week pledged to examine new approaches that might help move the agriculture talks forward and Ambassador Adank urged them to continue consulting among themselves.

“My sense is that overall we are still at the stage of clarifying where things are — with the consultations to date and today’s discussions being an important contribution to that — before we determine where that takes us,” he said.

“We need to listen carefully to each other.”

This informal meeting of the agriculture negotiations was open to the full membership, and was called so that Ambassador Adank could report on his consultations and for delegations to express their views.

It was the first meeting in the agriculture talks since the December 2011 Geneva Ministerial Conference when WTO ministers acknowledged that the Doha Development Agenda talks are at an impasse and called for a change of approach.

Members had told him that the search for a new approach would have to observe some conditions, the chairperson said. Some focused on subjects that concern them, some warned against backward steps from what has already been achieved in the talks as a result of heavy negotiating investment, he reported.

Until recently, the talks had focused on 10 particularly difficult remaining issues. Ambassador Adank said negotiators broadly acknowledged that in the current climate, progress on these issues might not be possible. At the same time some members said refocusing the talks could mean the large amount already achieved would be lost, he said.

Differences of opinion include which subjects might be agreed ahead of a comprehensive deal (the “early harvest”) and whether any political decisions can be taken in the present climate, Ambassador Adank said.

He urged negotiators to continue to talk to each other so that they can understand each other’s positions. He would also keep in close contact with them, he said.

“I will continue to consult with members, and to report on further developments,” he concluded.

“I will not at this stage suggest a timing for a further open-ended informal [meeting], but will consult in due course on when this might be useful to schedule.”

Speakers’ comments confirmed his assessment. Some said their groups will continue to test ideas and present the results as the next meeting.

Some suggested the issues of export competition — export subsidies and the parallel issues of disciplines on export credit, food aid and state trading enterprise, which could contain hidden subsidies — is ripe for an early agreement, including the declaration at the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Conference on eliminating the subsidies by 2013. Some also said members should deliver what the Hong Kong conference called for on cotton.

Others said the export competition commitment was always tied to agreement in all areas in agriculture as well as on geographical indications in intellectual property.

Some said that whatever is agreed has to strike a balance between all three “pillars” in the talks (market access, domestic support and export competition). Several repeated issues of concern to them.

Several said agriculture remains central to the whole Doha Round. They all said they are committed to working with each other and with the chairperson to find a way forward.

Chris Haris

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