Manila is optimistic that members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will reach a consensus agreement on key agricultural issues, such as public stockholding and special safeguard mechanism (SSM), by next year.
Agriculture Undersecretary Fermin D. Adriano said one of the country’s achievements in the recently concluded 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) was the inclusion of a permanent solution for public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH) and the establishment of a better SSM in the discussions leading to MC13.
Adriano, who was the country’s co-head of delegation to the MC12, noted that trade ministers agreed in principle that the critical issues in agricultural negotiations shall serve part of the work program for the upcoming MC13 in December next year.
The MC is the WTO’s highest policy making body wherein trade ministers from all the 164 member-countries meet biennially to negotiate on matters affecting global trade multilaterally.
MC 12, which was held in Geneva, Switzerland, concluded last June 17 with an “unprecedented” adoption of a package containing 10 decisions and declarations ranging from curbing harmful fisheries subsidies to extending moratorium on e-commerce duties.
“The main achievement was really just to put the issue of how to go about reducing domestic support subsidy, how to strengthen SSM and then how to build your public food stocking,” Adriano told reporters recently.
“In other words, there is an acceptance now that those are important and we will put these as an agenda in this Ministerial Conference which means there will be a lot of discussions along the way before the 13th Ministerial Conference happens.”
Adriano said the Covid-19 pandemic has shown to other countries the importance of having PSH and SSM amid the export bans and the disruptions to supply chains.
“I think there is recognition that because of this crisis, interdependence is really important. And now, particularly with the Russia-Ukraine war, it shows emphatically that interdependence is present,” he said.
The Philippine delegation went to Geneva two weeks ago and has taken a tough stance on the need for forge an agreement that would curtail domestic support that are “distorting” trade and food production as well as a permanent solution on PSH and a development of an “effective” SSM (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/06/13/manila-seeks-wto-deal-on-ssm-fisheries/).
However, MC12 ended without an adopted declaration or a decision on agriculture. The 164 members of the WTO did not achieve a consensus agreement on a draft ministerial decision on agriculture negotiations.
The draft ministerial decision, however, stipulated that PSH shall continue post-MC12 with the goal of “agreeing and adopting” a permanent solution by MC13. Likewise, negotiations on SSM shall continue with the end goal of “making recommendations for ministers at MC13.”
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pointed out that a declaration or decision on agriculture negotiations was not reached in the MC12 due to “sharp” differences among member-countries.
However, Okonjo-Iweala noted that it doesn’t mean that the agriculture negotiations have been abandoned altogether due to lack of an adopted work program or decision.
Okonjo-Iweala emphasized that Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) captures the continuous work at the WTO regarding the reform of global agriculture trade.
“Rather than have a debate in which we will not have a meeting of minds we decided to leave that for the moment. That document (Article 20 of the AoA) captures the pillars we intend to work on,” she said.
“It is still a good document to go by. And I think post MC-12 we will now come back and move forward on the basis of that document. By no means is agriculture going to be left behind,” she added.
The BusinessMirror earlier reported that the country’s agriculture sector stands to benefit from the slew of multilateral accords approved by WTO last MC12 that involved curbing harmful fisheries subsidies and refraining from imposing food export restrictions.
The package includes declarations on the multilateral body’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and another on emergency to food insecurity. A ministerial decision on exempting food purchases by the World Food Programme from export restrictions was adopted. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/06/17/phl-agri-seen-to-gain-from-wto-deals-on-harmful-subsidies-food-export-curbs/)