Consensus Likely To Elude On Modalities For Farm Trade Talks

New Delhi, January 22: | Updated: Jan 23 2003, 05:30am hrs
The Committee on Agriculture (CoA) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is unlikely to finalise the modalities for negotiations on trade in agriculture commodities by March 31, the deadline fixed by the Doha mandate.

Anwarul Hoda
The review report of Committee on Agriculture chairman Stuart Harbinson on the submissions made so far by various members reflect wide divergence in views.

The Committee on Agriculture is holding another meeting this week in an attempt to reach some sort of a consensus on the modalities.

Commerce ministry and agriculture ministry officials from India have left for Geneva to take part in this meeting along with ambassador and permanent representative of India to WTO KM Chandrashekhar.

Speaking to FE, former deputy director-general of WTO, Anwarul Hoda, pointed out that the positions of members on the modalities were wide apart. There are differences in levels of ambition, approach towards special & differential treatment (S&DT) and also the specific modalities to achieve the levels of tariff and subsidy reduction, he said.

Mr Hoda added that it was unlikely for a consensus to emerge on the issue of modalities by the scheduled date of March 31.

The deadline was set during the Doha ministerial meet in November 2001 with a view to have a multilateral agreement on agriculture (AoA) in place by December 31, 2004.

While the US and the Cairns group (Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, etc) are pushing for the adoption of Swiss formula of tariff reduction which calls for sharper reductions for higher tariff lines, a total of 55 countries, including the European Union and Japan, have expressed their support for the Uruguay Round formula which calls for equal percentage of tariff reduction irrespective of the existing levels of tariff.

India, in its submission to Committee on Agriculture in November 2002, had maintained that it would consider reducing its tariffs only after the developed countries deliver what they had promised earlier in terms of increasing market access.

It suggested that developing countries should be allowed to increase bound rates for specific agricultural products and be given flexibilities in their domestic policies to address their food security and livelihood concerns.

India has also asked for substantial reduction in tariff peaks and tariff escalations in products of export interest to developing countries.

It has sought improvement in disciplines on tariff rate quota administration and increased market access for all developing countries.

Agriculture will also be discussed at the mini-ministerial meet in Tokyo on February 15-16.