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AGRICULTURE: NEGOTIATIONS

Chairperson’s texts 2008

Updated: 9 December 2008

On 6 December 2008, Ambassador Crawford Falconer, chairperson of the agriculture negotiations, circulated his latest revised draft “modalities” text — a sort of blueprint for the final deal. This was based on consultations since September, which followed the “July 2008 package” talks when ministers came to Geneva, 21–30 July to try to agree on “modalities” in agriculture and non-agricultural market access. Although the July meetings ended in deadlock on some issues, gaps were narrowed on several others.

The draft “modalities” contain formulas for cutting tariffs and trade-distorting subsidies and related provisions. Previous versions were circulated on 10 July, 19 May and 8 February 2008 (see below).

These in turn were revised from a version circulated in July and August 2007 and the chair’s 16 working documents circulated since then. By July 2008, the changes were the result of roughly 240 hours of negotiations organized by the chairperson since September 2007, the most intensive and productive phase in the Doha Round since it began in 2001 and since the agriculture negotiations began in March 2000. Delegations also held lengthy negotiations among themselves.

Original mandate: Article 20
 > The Doha mandate
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 See also:
> Agriculture negotiations news
Negotiations gateway
2004 agreed framework
2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration
> July 2008 package
> More on the modalities phase

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Earlier texts

  

The previous, second draft of the modalities paper was circulated in July 2007, with corrections in August 2007.

Negotiations led to 16 working documents, circulated in November 2007–January 2008.

 

Earlier, the first draft of the modalities paper was circulated on 22 June 2006. This reflected work on a series of “reference papers”, which Ambassador Falconer circulated in April–June 2006.

 

A previous draft was circulated by the then chairperson Stuart Harbinson in March 2003 and modified slightly in a 7 July 2003 report to the Trade Negotiations Committee.

 

… And even earlier

For those keen on history, the 1993 Uruguay Round market access “modalities”, which were used but never formally adopted. Download, 21 pages: Word (126KB) or pdf (89KB)
 


The papers

6 December 2008 revised draft modalities
> Download
- Revised draft modalities for agriculture — 123 pages:
Word 3069 KB; pdf 927KB
- Sensitive products: tariff quota creation — 3 pages:
Word 53 KB; pdf 18KB
- Sensitive products: designation — 2 pages:
Word 45 KB; pdf 18KB
- Special safeguard mechanism — 3 pages:
Word 48 KB; pdf 22KB
Unofficial guide to the 6 December 2008 ‘revised draft modalities’

11 August 2008 report to the Trade Negotiations Committee
> Browse the report with unofficial notes
> Download (original text only): 5 pages: Word 62KB; pdf 27KB
> Unofficial guide to agricultural safeguards

10 July 2008 revised draft modalities
> Download
, 116 pages: Word 2584KB; pdf 899KB
Listen to the press conference following the release of this text    help
Unofficial guide to the 10 July 2008 ‘revised draft modalities’

19 May 2008 revised draft modalities
> Download (now combines the covering letter and the Excel attachments with the main text in a single document): 108 pages: Word 2.4MB; pdf 568KB
Listen to the press conference following the release of this text    > help
>
Unofficial guide to the 19 May 2008 ‘revised draft modalities’

8 February 2008 revised draft modalities
> Download, 61 pages: Word 644KB; pdf 318KB
Listen to the press conference following the release of this text    > help
Unofficial guide to the 8 February 2008 ‘revised draft modalities’

Chairperson’s working documents November 2007–January 2008
 

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Explanation
The revised draft modalities

What are these papers?

They are NOT “proposals” from the New Zealand ambassador (or from “the WTO”) in the sense that we would normally understand the word “proposal”. In other words, they are NOT his opinion of what would be “good” for world agricultural trade.

Rather, they are assessments drawn from WTO member governments’ positions. They are the negotiations’ chairperson’s judgement of what members might be able to agree — based on what they have proposed and debated in over seven years of negotiations and their responses to his previous papers. He has stressed that this is not final. Each draft puts the possible areas of agreement on paper so that members can react and further revise it. So each paper kicks off another intensive series of meetings and comment.

 Hear the chairperson’s comments in recent meetings

What are “modalities”? “Modalities” are ways or methods of doing something. Here, the ultimate objective is for member governments to cut tariffs and subsidies and to make these binding commitments in the WTO. The “modalities” will tell them how to do it, but first the “modalities” have to be agreed.

With 153 members and thousands of products, the simplest way to do this is to agree on formulas for making the cuts. These formulas are at the heart of the “modalities”. Once they have been agreed, governments can apply the formulas to their tariffs and subsidies to set new ceiling commitments.

However in order to agree to the formulas, members want a number of other concerns to be part of the deal. These include flexibility to allow some deviation from the formulas, tighter disciplines to ensure loopholes are plugged and trade-distorting subsidies are not camouflaged in permitted policies, and different treatment for developing countries and some other groups of members.

The result is a document that is considerably more complicated than formulas alone. But the aim is still to strike a deal that enables governments to open their markets and reduce trade-distorting subsidies. These new commitments are to be listed in documents called “schedules” of commitments.

What happens next?

Previously, each drafts’ release kicked off another intensive series of meetings. In July 2008, after further discussion in the agriculture negotiating groups, members moved to a new phase where agriculture, non-agricultural market access and some other areas of the Doha Round could be negotiated in comparison with each other. They hoped to reach agreement on the “modalities” by the end of July 2008. When the attempt failed, they said they would try to preserve what had been agreed and continue working towards agreement.

Eventually members want to negotiate an acceptable balance between the depths of cuts (the “level of ambition”) in agricultural and non-agricultural tariffs and agricultural subsidies as well as the size of cuts that they desire in each area.

So the drafts are still not the final word. They put the possible areas of agreement on paper so that members can react and further revise the texts.


WHERE AND WHO?

How are these issues being negotiated?

Since September 2008, much of the negotiating has taken place in the chairperson’s consultations with groups of delegates. He has nicknamed these “walks in the woods” partly because they have taken place outside the WTO.

Before that, up to July, 2008  the hard talking on agriculture took place in meetings of 36–37 representative delegations, a more manageable size than sessions of the full membership. The process was controlled by meetings of the full membership and was chaired by the talks’ chairperson, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand. The 36–37 met in Room E (sometimes Room D)at the WTO and the sessions were sometimes called “Room E” or “Room D” meetings. All coalitions were represented to ensure the talks were inclusive and transparent.

In 2008 there have been 37 delegations in Room E. The most recent list is:
Argentina (Cairns Group, G-20), Australia (Cairns Group coordinator), Benin (Cotton-4, African Group, least-developed, Africa-Caribbean-Pacific), Brazil (G-20 coordinator, also Cairns), Burkina Faso (Cotton-4 coordinator, also African Group, least-developed, ACP), Canada (Cairns),  China (G-33, G-20, recent new member), Colombia (Cairns, tropical products group), Costa Rica (tropical products coordinator, also Cairns), Côte d’Ivoire (African Group coordinator, also ACP), Cuba (G-33, small and vulnerable economies), Dominican Republic (small-vulnerable economies coordinator, also G-33), Ecuador (tropical products, recent new member), Egypt (G-20, African Group), EU, India (G-33, G-20), Indonesia (G-33 coordinator, also G-20, Cairns), Jamaica (ACP coordinator, also G-33, small-vulnerable), Japan (G-10), Kenya (G-33, African, ACP), Rep. Korea (G-33, G-10), Lesotho (least-developed countries coordinator, also African Group, ACP), Mauritius (G-33, ACP, African), Malaysia (Cairns), Mexico (G-20), New Zealand (Cairns), Norway (G-10), Pakistan (Cairns, G-20, G-33), Paraguay (Cairns, G-20, tropical products, small-vulnerable), Philippines (G-33, G-20, Cairns), Switzerland (G-10 coordinator), Chinese Taipei (recent new members coordinator, also G–10), Thailand (Cairns, G-20), Turkey (G-33), Uruguay (Cairns, G-20), US, Venezuela (G-33, G-20)

(Previously, during 2007: Panama as recent new members coordinator; Uganda as African Group coordinator.)

> More on coalitions