WTO Framework Agreement on Agriculture: What lies ahead?

Date: 14 October 2004

Tim Josling, University of Stanford
Stefan Tangermann, Director for Agriculture, OECD

Tassos Haniotis, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Fischler
H.E. Peter Grey, Ambassador of Australia to the EU
H.E. Jose Alfredo Graca Lima, Ambassador of Brazil to the EU
With the broad outline of the WTO DDA talks poised for ‘time-out’ due to US presidential elections and the arrival of the new EU Commission, CEPS took the opportunity to review the recent framework agreement on agriculture reached at the WTO in Geneva this August. To this end, a broad-based panel of distinguished agricultural experts was assembled presenting views from all quarters of the developmental spectrum. The focus of debate was whether the agricultural framework agreement can serve as a genuine a basis for progress in the wider DDA round, when talks resume. 
After an overview of the WTO process and its achievements and priorities in agriculture, given by the OECD’s Director of agriculture Prof Stefan Tangermann, all sides involved in the WTO debate were able to present their views. In succession these then included  the negotiation positions of the European Commission, presented by the Deputy Head of the Cabinet Fischler, Tassos Haniotis, and for the USA by Stanford University Professor Tim Josling, who was followed by the Australian Ambassador to the EU, Peter Grey, and lastly by the Brazilian Ambassador to the EU, Jose Alfredo Graca Lima.
While there were some differences of opinion of whether the inclusion of agriculture might be a step too far for the multilateral process, all parties were of the opinion that failure to achieve an agreement in agriculture would be a disaster for all parties involved. And the difficulties within the DDA negotiations just proofs that all parties are serious about an outcome. In addition despite very genuine progress by the EU in reforms to the CAP and in finally putting the elimination of export subsidies on the negotiating table, it was made clear by both the Australian and Brazilian contributors that providing genuine improvements in Market Access (MA) was the litmus test for a successful development outcome. This is largely because MA is the least precise element of the framework so far.
While a cautious approach to tariff reduction is likely to linger in the EU & US camp, concerns about the increasing proliferation of ‘non-trade barriers’ and ways to separate genuine from relatively prosperous developing countries were also seen as points requiring urgent attention. In general the mood of the meeting was cautiously upbeat about what had been achieved before the summer recess and the feeling was that the new administrations would take time to establish position before re-launching talks proper in perhaps as much six to nine months time. If however, the complex maze of interlocking issues in agriculture can be resolved the prospects for the eventual achievement of a trade round by say 2007 might be in prospect – and while the framework agreement left much detail to be fleshed out – it had achieved the task of getting the DDA back on track after the collapse of talks at Cancun in September last year. In the end, a political breakthrough in agriculture is probably more important than the detail of the agreement.