Bilateral Talks to Dominate Upcoming WTO Ag Negotiations

9 March 2011

Bilateral contact between major trading powers is likely to dominate farm trade talks until the end of next week, delegates said on Wednesday, as the chair of the WTO's agriculture negotiations kicked off ten days of consultations in Geneva.

Discussions among a small group of trading powers have increasingly taken centre stage in the bid to break the deadlock in the long-running Doha Round of talks, as the chairs of the various negotiating areas work to produce revised draft texts by the last week of April. However, recent initiatives from Mexico and Brazil to explore linking concessions across separate negotiating areas have so far failed to generate new movement in the troubled talks.

The chair of the agriculture negotiations, New Zealand Ambassador David Walker, has invited some three dozen countries from a cross-section of coalitions and world regions to a meeting on Friday, and indicated he plans to hold separate consultations with smaller groups. Trade officials nonetheless indicated that there was not yet any indication of what these meetings might hold in store.

A negotiator from one major country privately queried whether the slow pace of talks in recent weeks would suffice to allow the chair to prepare revised drafts. "Why is there no particular meeting being organised to discuss new text for modalities?" the official asked, in a reference to the negotiating draft that is due to form the blueprint for an eventual Doha deal.

Discussions among Geneva-based officials have instead largely focused on a technical exercise aimed at "clarifying"  the meaning of a number of provisions in the current draft. At a short meeting on Wednesday morning that was open to all delegations, Walker asked officials when this process would produce an "output" that could contribute to revising the draft text - a concern that was echoed by Brazil.

Delegates told Bridges that they had completed their discussion of domestic support provisions, and were now moving on to review the market access section - the longest and most complex part of the outline accord.

The US also informally circulated a set of 'clarification issues' relating to six paragraphs in the text on a proposed 'special safeguard mechanism', which developing countries would be able to use to impose additional temporary duties in the event of a sudden surge in imports or a fall in prices. Issues included for clarification included, for example, the definition of a "seasonal" product, or the methodology for calculating currency exchange rates.

The chair has told all WTO delegations that they are invited to a meeting to conclude the ten days of talks, at 3pm on 18 March.

ICTSD reporting.

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