Agriculture negotiations enter decisive phase

Finding balanced solutions on numerous outstanding issues in agriculture is what members are following in the latest ongoing round of agriculture negotiations. Room E (group of 36 members) held its supposedly final round of consultations from 4-11th April 2008 in order to give input for horizontal process of senior officials to be followed by Ministerial meeting in mid May 2008 to finalize modalities.

The significant step was submission of a compromise paper on modalities for sensitive products by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, EC and USA. The paper got a mixed reaction from membership including concerns both from importers and exporters side however it represents a fairly balanced solution to this long outstanding issue.

This paper is a midpoint of the positions taken by Cairns group and G-20 (sectoral approach, expansion of TRQs on basis of domestic consumption of product at 4 or 6 digit HS level) and the partial designation approach (diluting the base of domestic consumption down to 8 or 10 digit HS and taking consumption of processed products separately). As per this agreed approach the domestic consumption base would have a certain floor (90% of consumption at products level) thus taking into account the Cairns group approach while as flexibility to the other side (importers) the options of sub-categorization and sub-allocation of quotas has been incorporated. Members are still working, in various formats, to fine tune this paper in order to make it workable for all membership.

Discussions in other areas of Market Access witnessed some flexibility in the areas of tariff simplification, tariff escalation, tropical products and preference erosion, TRQ administration and in-quota tariff rates. The outstanding issues of Special Products (SPs) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) did not attract any convergence and the issues would be taken to next stage for decision at horizontal or ministerial levels.

A revised text is expected around 28th April 2008. It is anticipated that there will be no further Room E format consultations after revised text and most of the issues will be decided in horizontal process followed by a Ministerial meeting. Most of the members are hopeful that this is the final phase and we are in a position to agree on modalities in a fairly short time. However the overall agreement is composed of other areas (i.e. NAMA, Services etc) as well.