Prospects and Developments in the WTO talks on Export Restrictions
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the limitations in the WTO rules on export restrictions. Consequently, the food importing countries such as Japan, Singapore, Chinese Taipei have identified the WTO rules on export restrictions as an area that needs further strengthening. The efforts for strengthening disciplines in this area of work are demonstrated by an increased number of proposals and submissions on export restrictions, especially in two key areas. The first area of focus is the transparency provisions on export restrictions. The second area is the exemption of World Food Programme (WFP) food purchases for non-commercial humanitarian purposes from export restrictions. Although the current focus is on the above-mentioned areas, there are ongoing attempts by several WTO members for a complete ban of export restrictions.
The proponents of export restrictions have circulated various iterations of proposals to strengthen transparency provisions in export restrictions. The intention of these proposals is to enforce prior notifications to the WTO by those who are imposing export restrictions as well as an exemption of foodstuff purchases by the WFP for humanitarian purposes from export restrictions. Other members have circulated submissions, which provide more detailed information on the impact of export restrictions to the work of the WFP.
Additionally, developing countries led by the Group of 90 (G90) circulated a compromise text on export restrictions relating to the WFP. The compromise text highlighted the need to include that the WFP should endeavour to take procurement decisions based on the principle of “doing no harm to the supplying member and promote local and regional food procurement.” The G90 text affirmed that “members shall not impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the WFP”. Moreover, the G90 text expressed that the purchase should not compromise national food security. Furthermore, the compromise includes language as follows: “it is understood that members’ food security shall not be jeopardised as a result of these purchases.” Although the G90 proposal provided a balanced text, the proponents of export restrictions did not support it.
In July 2021, the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (CoASS) circulated a draft negotiating text on agriculture. The draft text highlighted the WFP exemptions from export restrictions as well as improved transparency provisions as possible outcomes at the WTO Ministerial Meeting (MC12) scheduled for November 2021.
Many developing countries are willing to consider an outcome on export restrictions based on the compromise submission circulated by the G90 developing countries. For developing countries, it is important that these disciplines are limited only to exports of foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the WFP and not to exports of agricultural products in general.
Additionally, developing countries, particularly the African Group and the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states have very little appetite to consider a broad outcome on export restrictions. Linking export restrictions on WFP shipments and a broader export restriction agenda in the draft text will further diminish the chances of an outcome at MC12. Furthermore, the push for the expansion of existing transparency obligation is problematic for developing countries given their resource and capacity constraints. As a result, developing countries are unlikely to agree to any burdensome transparency obligations, which go beyond existing obligations.
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