Delegates from 146 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) gathered at a brief meeting Tuesday morning to kick off the four days of agriculture consultations with the aim to narrow differences and agree on framework agreements by the end of July.
Chairperson Tim Groser, who is also New Zealand's ambassador, told the delegations that they would continue to negotiate among themselves as they did during March 22-26 meetings, and return for an informal session and then a formal meeting on Friday.
Groser reiterated that the "three pillars" of agriculture talks -- export competition, domestic support, and market access -- are closely linked and it is pointless to define which is more important because different delegations will stress different pillars.
However, since market access remains the one pillar where the shape is not visible and further work is required, Groser told the delegates that the only guidance he would suggest is to focus on market access this week.
As agriculture has many types of years: calendar, marketing, financial, and even lunar, Groser said he was introducing the concept of a "political year."
He said he noted that political leaders are saying that the political year of 2004 ends in about three months, and urged delegations to appreciate how much work is needed to reach consensus within that period.
Three more sessions have been arranged in June and July in the hope that framework agreements on agriculture -- the toughest issue in the so-called Doha Round multilateral negotiations, which started in 2001 and are due to be concluded by the end of the year, can be reached.
The Doha negotiations have effectively been put to an impasse since the collapse of a ministerial meeting last September in Cancun, Mexico over farm subsidies and rules governing investment.
(Xinhua News Agency April 21, 2004)