The WTO Agreement of Agriculture came into effect in 1995 after the Uruguay Round trade negotiations with the goal to establish a fair-trading system through increased market access. The legal text of the agreement can be accessed from https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/14-ag_01_e.htm
The agriculture negotiations apply to the products covered under the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), namely, all basic agricultural products, the products derived from them and all processed agricultural products. This also includes wines, spirits, tobacco products, fibers such as cotton, wool and silk and raw animal skins for leather production. Fish and fish products and forestry products are not included.
The three main elements or “pillars” of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and the negotiations are: (i) market access, (ii) domestic support and (iii) export competition. The Doha Ministerial Declaration of November 2001 committed Members to comprehensive negotiations aimed at: substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support. Special and differential treatment for developing Members is also intended to be an integral part of the modalities.
Doha Round of trade negotiations was launched in the WTO in November 2001 and covers negotiations on agriculture, Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), services, dispute settlement, antidumping duties, subsidies, etc. This round was supposed to have a focus on development and hence, its agenda is referred to as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).
Subsequently, while convergence existed on most of the issues in negotiations, however, no consensus could be achieved on certain specific issues in the modalities related to Agriculture and Non-Agriculture Market Access. During 2008 and 2013, the Doha negotiations remained in a state of dormancy. However, during the Ninth Ministerial Conference (MC9) of the WTO held in Bali in December 2013 the negotiation on an Agreement on Trade Facilitation was concluded. This agreement has now been implemented by WTO members.
WTO members also agreed (in MC9) to put in place an interim mechanism, and to negotiate on an agreement for a permanent solution, on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes for adoption by the Eleventh Ministerial Conference. It was further agreed that in the interim, until a permanent solution was found, and provided that certain conditions were met, members shall refrain from challenging through the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism, compliance of a developing member with some of its obligations under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) in relation to support provided for traditional staple food crops in pursuance of public stockholding programmes for food security purposes existing as of the date of the Bali Decision. This decision (commonly referred to as the ‘Peace Clause’), read in conjunction with a subsequent decision of the General Council in November 2014, which explicitly makes the interim peace clause permanent till a permanent solution can be found, permits developing countries to procure foodstuffs for public stockholding programmes, even if the domestic support that is attributable to the procurement exceeds the ceilings specified in the AoA. However, certain conditions like transparency by way of timely submission of subsidy notification, anti-circumvention, monitoring, etc. have to be complied with, in order to be able to use the Peace Clause.
During the Tenth Ministerial Conference (MC10) of the WTO held at Nairobi in December 2015, WTO Members failed to unanimously reaffirm their commitment to the Doha mandate and to complete the Doha negotiations. While the majority of the Members (including India) were in favour of such reaffirmation, other members (mostly the developed countries) opposed the reaffirmation of the Doha mandate. While there is no explicit unanimous reaffirmation of the Doha mandate, at the same time the Doha Round was not explicitly concluded/abandoned. MC 10 eliminated agricultural export subsidies with special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries.
MC11 was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 10 to 13 December 2017. In the run-up to MC11, decisions were expected on a permanent solution on food security, other agriculture issues and fisheries subsidies. However, there was no decision on agriculture issues including on a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes. The impasse on agriculture issues occurred due to the strong position of the United States against agricultural reforms based on current WTO mandates and rules, which prevented even a future work programme for agriculture being agreed to.
Safeguarding the interests of low income and resource poor agricultural producers remains paramount for India. In this context, the following issues are vital:
Permanent solution to the public stockholding for food security purposes
Self-designation of an appropriate number of Special Products guided by indicators based on the three fundamental and agreed criteria of food security, livelihood security, and rural development needs;
An operational and effective Special Safeguard Mechanism to check against global price dips and import surges, which is more flexible than the existing special safeguard available mainly to developed countries;
Substantial and effective cuts in trade distorting domestic support beyond AMS
Simplification of non-ad valorem tariffs on agricultural products, by the developed countries, as has already been done by developing countries;
Safeguarding India’s export interests in the negotiations on tropical products and preference erosion.
India has been working constructively with her coalition partners in order to achieve an outcome in the agricultural negotiations that would fully reflect the level of ambition of the Doha mandate and the interests of developing countries.