Agriculture Negotiations at the WTO: Post-Cancun Outlook Report

Date period
1 October 2003

SummaryThis report, issued in October 2003, seeks to summarise the recent developments since April 2003 to the first post-Cancun WTO consultation on agriculture held on 24 October. As WTO Members were unable to adopt a modalities 'framework' at Cancun, this report attempts to outline how WTO Members could manage the resulting crisis and facilitate a process that would result in a "successful and timely conclusion of the negotiations" as mandated by Trade Ministers in Cancun.

Since WTO Members had failed to come to any agreements especially after missing the end-March deadline on agricultural modalities2, few expected that full agricultural modalities could be agreed by the Cancun Ministerial Conference in September 2003. As a result, Members opted for reaching an agreement merely on a 'framework' for future modalities, which would further substantiate the mandate contained in the Doha Declaration, but would leave out numbers and detailed rules. In a remarkable move, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) came up with a joint framework text, in which they consolidated their longstanding differences. This step sparked - for the first time in three and a half years - real negotiations, with counterproposals being tabled by new negotiating clusters such as the G-20 and the AU/ACP/LDC3 groups. Nevertheless, the Cancun Ministerial collapsed abruptly before agriculture could be discussed in greater detail - although it appeared that a significant degree of convergence was achieved on a draft agriculture framework text.

Whether the stalled process can be revived in the near future remains to be seen. A main reason for current deadlock seems to be the indecisiveness of key actors such as the EU and US on whether they will remain fully committed to the multilateral process, or whether they are inclined to scale back and shift their focus to other processes at, for example, bilateral, regional or plurilateral levels. As regards agriculture, Members are officially opting for deciding on a 'framework' by the end of the year. However, not many seem to consider this approach realistic. More likely is an agreement on some key principles together with a roadmap to facilitate the process during 2004 until Trade Ministers will meet again in Hong Kong some time in 2005. However, all outlooks being made can - for the time being - only be highly speculative as much will depend on whether or not key players can generate the political will necessary to put the round back on track.

This report is divided into five sections:

• Section 1 is a brief introduction setting the agriculture negotiations in the overall context in the overall process in the lead-up to Cancun.

• Section 2 focuses on Members' proposals and Chair texts tabled in the immediate lead-up to Cancun, providing descriptive and analytical detail of expressed proposals.

• Section 3 briefly addresses the events and dynamics at the Cancun Ministerial Conference.

• Section 4 takes a closer look at the immediate post-Cancun situation.

• Section 5 looks ahead at the upcoming issues in connection with the negotiations in agriculture - particularly in the face of the upcoming mid-December senior level WTO General Council meting.

The methodology used in compiling this report combined comprehensive in-house analytical work, on-site monitoring of the Cancun Ministerial negotiations, as well as extensive outreach to country delegates based in Geneva and representatives of local non-governmental organisations.