U.S. Negotiators and Allies Hold Strong Against India’s Demands at WTO Ministerial

Peter-Bachmann, wearing business suite, stands next to WTO-MC12 sign
USA Rice's Peter Bachmann on the ground at the WTO MC12 fighting for fairness on ag issues
Jun 21, 2022
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Last week, World Trade Organization (WTO) ministers met here for the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which has not been held in-person since 2017.  USA Rice was one of several U.S. trade associations that participated in MC12 as an accredited non-governmental organization.

While expectations by most delegations, as well as those of the Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, going into MC12 were low, ministers were able to achieve unprecedented progress on several issues.  The contentious negotiations led to a one-day extension of the conference that continued long into the night.  Within agriculture, a food security text and a commitment to exempt World Food Programme (WFP) purchases from export restrictions were reached.

“From the outside, reaching agreement on two innocuous components of the agriculture discussions seems unimpressive, but throughout the negotiations, India stood firmly in the way of progress and unfairly tied demands to permanently expand public stockholding provisions for rice, wheat, and other commodities, and to exempt subsidy restrictions of commodities sold government-to-government,” said Michael Rue, California rice farmer and vice chair of the USA Rice Trade Policy Committee, who was part of the USA Rice delegation.  “U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai was well supported by the USTR and USDA agriculture teams and stood firm in her commitment to protect U.S. farmers from bad actors, like India (see USA Rice Daily, June 3, 2022).  India’s trade distorting policies have already taken a toll on the U.S. rice industry and rolling back WTO rules to the benefit of India’s rice and wheat sectors would only further hurt the competitiveness of the U.S. rice industry and so this particular lack of outcome on public stockholding is a U.S. win.”

USA Rice was not only representing the U.S. rice industry in Geneva, but also helping to lead the Aggies for WTO Reform Coalition that was formed in 2021.  Five different trade associations from within the Coalition participated in a series of meetings with the Brazilian and Canadian agriculture industries, Australian and Brazilian governments, trade think tanks, and regular briefings with the U.S. negotiating teams.

“This opportunity to come together helped show that the U.S. has done a lot of coalition building and there is near-universal support to block any outcome that takes a step backward, or that gives India and other developing countries immunity from enforcement of agreements on agriculture subsidy disciplines,” said Rue.

In addition to the limited agricultural outcomes, there was a pared-down agreement on fisheries subsidies, an extension of the e-commerce moratorium, a pandemic response text alongside a decision to allow intellectual property rights flexibility for COVID-19 vaccines, and the launch of WTO reform discussions.

USA Rice and the Aggies for WTO Reform will continue to advocate to the U.S. government and allies to hold firm in their position and work towards meaningful agriculture reform negotiations that strengthen the role of the WTO for U.S. farmers and holds the world’s producers accountable to WTO rules.