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WTO members appoint new chair for agriculture talks

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Ambassador Abraham replaces Guyana’s Ambassador John Deep Ford who stepped down at the end of June 2020. She paid tribute to her predecessor by underlining his commitment and leadership of the Negotiating Group on Agriculture and the intensive technical work undertaken during the two years that he chaired the CoASS. 

Ambassador Abraham stressed that she was committed to “supporting members in facilitating the negotiations, fostering an environment conducive to open discussions, and helping to advance new ideas that lead to consensus building”.

She highlighted the great importance of the sustainability of the global agricultural system and of the reform of the agricultural trading system. She stressed that WTO work was key to ensuring global food security and that it needed to adapt to the new challenges of this century. She noted the unprecedented challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will have social and economic consequences that will require adaptation, versatility and flexibility; and we will have to translate this together — collectively — into negotiations on agriculture,” the new chair said.

Ambassador Abraham commended members for the considerable time and energy devoted to getting successful outcomes on agriculture at the forthcoming 12th Ministerial Conference. She undertook to continue working in all negotiating areas, counting on members’ support and contributions, including building on the lessons from the past and addressing in an effective and balanced manner the interests and sensitivities of members. She stressed the need for realistic ambitions and creativity in building solutions.

Looking ahead, the new chair hoped the summer break would provide members with the necessary time to address the effects of the pandemic and reflect on how best to revitalize the negotiations.

Noting that the last report by the former chair provided a good basis for the work ahead, Ambassador Abraham announced that she would be seeking in September members’ views on  both the process and substance of  the negotiations along the following themes: the lessons learned from the negotiation process before the outbreak of the pandemic, and possible adjustments required in the current context; the priorities for negotiation; and the timelines for the different stages of consultations and negotiations.

Ambassador Abraham said the dates of the next meetings of the CoASS would be decided based on the results of her initial consultations after the summer break. Her intention was to convene the next informal meeting no later than in the second half of September.

Ambassador Abraham emphasized her principles of inclusiveness and transparency and said her door “will always be open” to members for consultations. 

“It is in times of difficulty that the best of the human spirit has a chance to flourish. The complexity of the agricultural negotiations, more than a disincentive, should serve as an incentive for us to find innovative solutions,” she declared. “Only through dialogue and mutual understanding can we move towards agreements that benefit all members. In my position as chair and facilitator, I will do everything in my power to support you in this task.”

Ambassador Abraham has had a long career dedicated to agriculture, trade and trade negotiations.  Before taking up her position as Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the WTO a year ago, she was the Office Director for Mexico of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and also the first woman to be appointed as Minister of Agriculture and Husbandry of Costa Rica, a post she held between 2010 and 2014. Prior to that, she also occupied different positions within United Nations Development Programme, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, the World Bank and the Central American Institute of Public Administration.

Ambassador Abraham is the twelfth chair of the agriculture negotiations since talks began in March 2000 and the first female chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture, which was established following the Doha Ministerial Conference to continue negotiations on agriculture.

Previous WTO agriculture negotiations chairs:  

  • March 2000: Roger Farrell (New Zealand, ex officio as Goods Council chairperson) 
  • June 2000 to March 2001: Jorge Voto-Bernales (Peru) 
  • March 2001 to Doha Ministerial Conference: Apiradi Tantraporn (Thailand) 
  • From Doha (Nov 2001, chairing first meeting in March 2002) to Cancún (Sept 2003): Stuart Harbinson (Hong Kong, China) 
  • From Cancún (Sept 2003, chairing first meeting in March 2004) to summer (July) 2005: Tim Groser (New Zealand) 
  • From summer (Sept) 2005 to April 2009: Crawford Falconer (New Zealand) 
  • From April 2009 to June 2011: David Walker (New Zealand) 
  • From November 2011 to July 2015: John Adank (New Zealand) 
  • From September 2015 to November 2016: Vangelis Vitalis (New Zealand)
  • From April 2017 to March 2018: Stephen Ndung’u Karau (Kenya)
  • From April 2018 to June 2020: John Deep Ford (Guyana)

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