As part of the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA), members of the newly established WTO (replacing the GATT, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) agreed to initiate further negotiations "for continuing the agricultural trade reform process" by the end of 1999. In 2001 this "built-in reform agenda" in turn became part of the wider "Doha Round", or Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The DDA covered the "three pillars" of trade in agriculture:
- Substantial reductions in barriers to market access
- Reductions in, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies
- Substantial reductions in domestic support for agriculture that distort trade.
- The Doha Declaration placed as "integral throughout the negotiations" special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries. Core to the Doha Declaration was the "Single Undertaking", whereby nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. However this was effectively broken in Bali in 2013, through the Trade Facilitation Agreement and a number of other agreements, furthered by the specific agreements on agriculture reached in Nairobi.
- Although paragraph 12 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration states: "We note, however, that much less progress has been made in Agriculture", the decision taken there to eliminate agricultural export subsidies was described by the WTO Director General as "the WTO's most significant outcome on agriculture" in 20 years. Alongside that, the Declaration also recommitted members to continue work on reaching a "Special Safeguard Mechanism for Developing Country Members" (SSM).
- Realistically however the Doha process as such has run its course, with fresh thinking and fresh input now needed, not only for future multilateral negotiations but also for what might best be achieved at bilateral or regional level without distorting the global picture.
- Nevertheless, as the EC Communication "Trade for All" states, multilateralism lies at the heart of world trade and must remain "the cornerstone of EU trade policy". The WTO develops and enforces the rules of global trade, and ensures global compatibility. There remains a real danger that bilateral agreements could set potentially overlapping and even conflicting rules.
- The EU carries weight as the world's largest exporter and importer of agricultural products, it is no longer seen to be primarily defensive on agriculture, it has a proven sustained interest in trade and development and above all it showed in Nairobi it has the ability to produce fresh and balanced thinking. The EU has the credibility to play an effective bridging role between developed and developing countries.
- However, before it can do this effectively, the EESC urges the Commission to undertake a full impact assessment first on the likely effects that implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement will have on EU agriculture and on EU trade policy.
- At the same time, the EU must widen this impact assessment to include the effects on agriculture across the EU from recent EU trade agreements as well as developments in trade globally.