WTO members continue to conduct negotiations to reform agricultural trade. These talks began in early 2000 under the original mandate of the Agriculture Agreement and became part of the Doha Round at the 2001 Doha Ministerial Conference. At the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, ministers adopted important decisions on agriculture. More recently, at the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference, WTO members agreed on a historic decision to eliminate agricultural export subsidies, the most important reform of international trade rules in agriculture since the WTO was established.
The negotiations take place in special sessions of the Agriculture Committee. The current chair isAmbassador Stephen Ndung'u KARAU (Kenya).
At the 2015 WTO Nairobi Ministerial Conference, WTO members adopted a historic decision to eliminate agricultural export subsidies and to set disciplines on export measures with equivalent effect. Under this decision, export subsidies will be eliminated by developed countries immediately, except for a handful of agriculture products, while developing countries have longer periods to do so.
By eliminating export subsidies, WTO members delivered a key target of the Sustainable Development Goal on Zero Hunger. It will help to level the playing field for farmers around the world, particularly those in poor countries which cannot compete with rich countries that artificially boost their exports through subsidies.
WTO members agreed to engage constructively in finding a permanent solution to developing countries' use of public stockholding programmes for food securitypurposes.
Ministers also agreed to continue negotiations on a special safeguard mechanism that would allow developing countries to temporarily raise tariffs on agriculture products in cases of import surges or price falls.
The Nairobi Ministerial Decision on Cotton contains provisions on improving market access for least-developed countries, reforming domestic support and eliminating export subsidies. It also underlines the importance of effective assistance to support the cotton sector in developing countries.
In Nairobi, ministers declared that “there remains a strong commitment of all members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues. This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access and export competition”.
At the 2013 Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia, ministers agreed on a package of issues, including four decisions on agriculture:
- an agreement to negotiate a permanent solution to public stockholding for food security purposes, and to refrain from challenging breaches of domestic support commitments resulting from developing countries' public stockholding programmes for food security provided certain conditions are met
- a call for more transparency in tariff (or tariff-rate) quota administration – whereby quantities inside a quota are charged lower import duty rates - and for governments not to create trade barriers by how they distribute quotas among importers
- an expansion of the list of "General Services" - to include spending on land use, land reform, water management, and other poverty-reduction programmes -that qualify for Green Box support (i.e. domestic support that is allowed without limits because it does not distort trade, or at most causes minimal distortion).
- a declaration to reduce all forms of export subsidies and to enhance transparency and monitoring
In Bali, ministers also agreed to enhance transparency and monitoring in the trading of cotton in recognition of the importance of this sector to developing countries and to work towards the reform of global trade in cotton.
Milestones in the negotiations
Article 20 of the WTO Agriculture Agreement recognizes that the long-term objective of substantial progressive reductions in support and protection in agriculture is an ongoing process. It says agriculture negotiations should restart in 2000.
In November 2001, the agriculture talks became part of the "single undertaking" in the Doha Round of trade negotiations.
In 2004, WTO members meeting as the General Council agreed on a set of decisions, sometimes called the July 2004 package. The main section on agriculture contains a framework which outlines what could be a final deal. Members were able to narrow their difference at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December 2005.
A draft agriculture text was circulated in 2006. This and later revisions contain proposed formulas for cutting tariffs and subsidies, along with various new provisions that would be included in the future agreement on agriculture.
Much of 2007 and 2008 saw intensive negotiations, and numerous working paperswere developed.
In July 2008, a group of ministers went to Geneva to try to negotiate a breakthrough on key issues. The consultations continued from September. Drawing on over a year of negotiations, on 6 December 2008 the chair of the agriculture negotiations issued a fourth revision of the draft (often called "Rev.4") to capture the progress and highlight the remaining gaps.
From 2011 the talks resumed on trying to narrow the differences in members' position. At the Ministerial Conference at the end of the year, ministers agreed that for the time being members should concentrate on topics where progress was most likely to be made.
Both the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference and 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference resulted in significant outcomes in agriculture.