Why 11th Ministerial Meeting of WTO is important for Global Agricultural Trade?
Argentina is scheduled to host the Eleventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO from 10th to 13th December 2017 in Buenos Aires. Ministerial Conference is the decision-making body of the WTO that takes important trade liberalization decisions.
The last concluded Nairobi meet, the 10th MC in 2015, was a huge disappointment for the developing and under developed world. While the negotiators from the developed countries came fully prepared to defend their strategic aims, the developing and under developed countries faltered for want of a clear-cut strategy. For the upcoming meet, the Governments would need to improve their preparation, especially on matters like agriculture.
WTO members took a set of decisions on agriculture in 2015, including a recommitment to advance work on an agricultural special safeguard mechanism and a deal to abolish agricultural export subsidies. These was an important step, especially eliminating export subsidies, the biggest reform in global agriculture trade for 20 years. This is actually one element of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Zero Hunger, though there is much more remains to be done in order to reduce distortions in agricultural markets.
The Buenos Aires MC In all likelihood is bound to carry forward the agenda that remained unresolved at Nairobi MC. There are several issues that the Nairobi pledged to consider or finalize at the 11th MC, which includes- public stockholding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries and measures related to cotton trade. The food security related public stock holding is of prime importance for India. The SSM against high level of agricultural goods imports are also requested by India and the issue is yet to be solved.
Food security is an issue that is of high importance to all the WTO members, and trade plays an important role in achieving this goal. Trade has an impact on all four dimensions of food security: food availability, access to food, utilization, and stability over time. So it needs to be explored as to how trade can contribute in making nutritious food available to those in need, and providing people with enough income to access this food where and when needed.
WTO members received, at an informal agriculture negotiating session on 19 July 2017, a number of proposals and other submissions on agriculture, which would act as a tangible step forward in the negotiations for the outcome at MC11. The issue of export restrictions emerged as being of particular interest to a number of members which have been seeking to strengthen disciplines in this area. The Cairns Group of agriculture exporting countries has circulated a paper before the upcoming meet on the group’s objective for MC11 and beyond, laying down elements of a possible outcome on domestic support and in other areas. Some members of the group also issued a technical analysis detailing four different scenarios of subsidy curbs aimed at limiting different types of domestic support. Paraguay and Peru have sought to address high trade barriers in agriculture, including complex tariff structures, relatively high tariffs and higher import duties on finished or semi-processed products than on raw materials.
While a number of such dedicated sessions have been held, more and faster progress is needed and a successful outcome in Buenos Aires would contribute another significant step in the quest to effectively address the food security issue on a global scale. This would prove to be crucial for the global agriculture trade in the future.