During a two-day meeting of the Committee on Agriculture on September 27-28, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) convened to examine each other's agricultural policies to ensure compliance with WTO regulations. While food security remained a central focus, discussions extended to various related topics, including the intersection of agri-food trade, technology transfer, and environmental protection. The meeting also aimed to promote transparency in agricultural measures and enhance the committee's overall effectiveness.
Response to Food Insecurity and Pandemic Impact
The committee continued deliberations on implementing the declarations made during the MC12 conference regarding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and food security. Members received updated analyses of global food markets and security from the International Grains Council (IGC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The IGC highlighted potential challenges in the production and market supply of grains for 2023-24, particularly concerning wheat and rice. The FAO reported that an alarming 783 million people are currently facing hunger, with rice prices reaching a 15-year high in August. The global food import bill is projected to reach USD 1.98 trillion in 2023. Factors contributing to the food crisis include geopolitical conflicts, economic downturns, extreme climate events, and growing inequality. Members exchanged ideas on maintaining open markets, improving transparency, and providing emergency assistance. Some called for restraint in the use of export restrictions during crises, while others emphasized the importance of collaboration with international organizations to address food insecurity.
Review of Agricultural Policies
Members reviewed 26 new issues related to each other's agricultural policies, covering market access, domestic support, and export competition. These matters included farm support programs from various countries and import/export-limiting measures implemented by others. Members also sought further information on previously raised issues, such as the EU's deforestation regulation, export restrictions by Argentina and India, Canada's dairy policies, and China's policies on beef and grain. The discussion highlighted the importance of transparency and information-sharing among WTO members.
Efforts to enhance transparency in agricultural trade measures, specifically export subsidies, were discussed. Members positively responded to proposals for streamlining export subsidy notification requirements while preserving existing levels of transparency. Additionally, Costa Rica's suggestions for modifying the notification format to report tariff quota administration practices were welcomed.
Discussions continued on improving the "Functioning of the Committee on Agriculture," based on document RD/AG/111, which compiles members' suggestions. The chair acknowledged the efforts made by some members to submit overdue notifications and called for greater efficiency in addressing inquiries.
Technology Transfer, Environment, and Agri-Food System Resilience
The African Group presented a submission on the role of technology transfer in building agricultural resilience. They stressed the importance of technology transfer in boosting agricultural productivity and supporting sustainable farming and digital trade in Africa. Members expressed support for this initiative, with some proposing thematic sessions to further explore the topic.
Regarding agriculture and the environment, presentations were made on submissions by the African Group and the Cairns Group. Concerns were raised about unilateral trade-restrictive measures related to environmental protection and climate change. Members acknowledged the complexity of the issue and emphasized the need for tailored approaches to address environmental concerns. The EU responded by highlighting the severity of global environmental challenges and the EU's commitment to transparency and dialogue in implementing trade-related environmental measures, including its deforestation regulation.
EU's Deforestation Regulation
A joint letter from Brazil and 17 other developing members expressed concerns about the EU's deforestation regulation, which they viewed as punitive and discriminatory. They urged the EU to engage in dialogue and consider providing flexibilities to developing countries in the implementation of stringent regulations. Several members voiced concerns about potential trade barriers and implementation challenges stemming from the regulation, emphasizing the need for a collaborative approach. The EU emphasized its commitment to transparency, dialogue, and the involvement of third-country stakeholders in implementing environmental regulations while highlighting the WTO's role in addressing climate change and environmental issues.
In conclusion, the meeting of the Committee on Agriculture highlighted the ongoing efforts by WTO members to review agricultural policies, enhance food security, and address environmental challenges within the framework of international trade. Collaborative discussions aimed at improving transparency and cooperation will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the future of global agriculture and trade.