The Agriculture Negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
The Doha Development Agenda (DDA) owes its existence to the fourth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Doha, Qatar in November 2001, which resulted in the Doha declaration. There were a range of subjects discussed under the declaration; however, this background paper* focuses on the section on agriculture. The Doha declaration built on the work that was already going on in agriculture negotiations, following the Uruguay round of trade negotiations (1986-1994) and the conclusion of the agreement on agriculture (AoA). The objective of the AoA was to remove agricultural trade distortions in order to ensure that import and export markets remained predictable for traders. These distortions arose from the loopholes in the GATT that allowed members to use import quotas and subsidise agricultural trade.
The Doha declaration reconfirmed the long-term objective of establishing a fair and market oriented trading system through a programme of fundamental reforms. However, Members were unable to meet the deadline of March 2003 on modalities on agriculture that would enable them produce their comprehensive draft commitments. They proceeded to prepare a framework of modalities, which was completed in August 2003, even though the process continued to August 2004. From September 2004 till now, members are in the modalities phase.
The MC10 will be the first WTO ministerial meeting to be held in Africa. Little progress has been made so far in terms of possible areas of agreement and if the statement by the chair of agriculture, Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand, is anything to go by: “Unfortunately, the areas of divergence remain and our challenge is to see what is still possible to narrow the gaps and precisely where”.
The G33 have made proposals to have special safeguards mechanisms that allow developing countries to temporarily raise tariffs to curb import surges should be included in under sides to be discussed in Nairobi. Australia has also made a proposal on how export competition could be commercially beneficial. There have been no changes on discussions on public stock holding, cotton, domestic support and market access. It is clear that the Nairobi Ministerial is unlikely to deliver much progress in terms of agreements on issues at stake in agriculture, more so conclusion of the Doha round.
* Background Paper Prepared for the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. The author is affiliated to the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kenya.
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