Mission to Geneva, Switzerland - WTO Negotiations, July 19-27, 2008

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Final Trip Report

Purpose of travel:
To press Alberta’s trade interests and priorities in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations through discussions and meetings with Canada’s agriculture and trade ministers, ambassadors/representatives of key WTO member countries, and WTO officials during the WTO ministerial meetings held in July 2008.

Minister Groeneveld’s mission to Geneva, Switzerland, provided the opportunity to advocate Alberta’s interests and priorities in the WTO negotiations in person. The Minister met with the federal agriculture and trade ministers and Canada’s chief negotiators, and participated in the daily debriefs provided by the federal ministers. The Minister consistently pressed Alberta’s interest in achieving a timely and commercially meaningful WTO outcome.

Minister Groeneveld also met with high-level WTO officials, the Ambassador of the European Commission (EC), representatives of the United States (US), Brazil, China, and New Zealand, and a delegation from Japan’s House of Representatives.

The WTO ministerial meeting was convened on July 21, 2008 to finalize agreements on modalities for the agriculture and non-agriculture market access negotiations. The ministerial meeting ended nine days later without concluding an agreement, despite making significant progress on a wide range of outstanding issues. A stalemate on a safeguard mechanism that would allow developing countries to counter import surges caused the breakdown of the talks.

In light of the progress achieved, WTO member countries have expressed their desire to resume the talks and conclude the Doha Round sooner rather than later. It is anticipated that the negotiations will resume in the fall.

A successful and timely completion of the agriculture negotiations is essential for the growth and sustainability of Alberta’s agriculture and agri-food industry. It is critical that a final agreement secures new markets for Alberta products, eliminates export subsidies, and significantly reduces trade-distorting farm support in other countries.

A recent independent study estimates that substantial tariff reductions under the WTO could bring $3 billion US per year in additional export gains for Canadian agriculture. Export gains for beef, wheat, and pork alone could reach US $2.3 (US) billion. The largest gains are projected for beef, ($994 million US per year); followed by wheat, ($690 million US per); and pork, ($651 million US per year). Barley, canola, soybeans, and peas, in that order of importance, are projected to gain between $66 million US, and $313 million US per year in additional exports. Given Alberta’s export share of Canada’s total exports, over US $1.1 billion of the additional export gains could be accrued to Alberta annually.

Mission Objectives:

  • Advocate Alberta’s interests in the WTO agriculture negotiations;
  • Press Alberta’s interests and priorities in meetings with Canada’s agriculture and trade ministers;
  • Ensure that key WTO members understand Alberta’s position and interests;
  • Place information in front of key decision makers that can contribute to a successful conclusion of the negotiations; and
  • Gather intelligence on the proposed disciplines, rules, and options for a new agreement on agricultural trade.


July 20, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld and the Honourable Bob Bjornerud, Minister of Saskatchewan Agriculture, met with Mr. John Weekes, a former Canadian Ambassador to the WTO and Canada’s North American Free Trade Agreement Chief Negotiator, currently working as a senior policy advisor for Sidley Austin LLP. Areas of discussion included the state of the agriculture negotiations, interests of key WTO countries and Canada’s role in the negotiations.
  • Minister Groeneveld attended a reception at the Canadian Mission in Geneva hosted by Canada’s Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and Michael Fortier, Minister of International Trade.

July 21, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld held a breakfast meeting with Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Minister, Minister Bjornerud, to discuss joint efforts in advancing the interests of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the WTO negotiations.
  • Minister Groeneveld participated in a debriefing session provided by Minister Ritz and Minister Fortier and urged the ministers to provide time to listen to, and advance the interests of Canada’s export dependent sectors.

July 22, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld held a breakfast meeting with the Agriculture Ministers of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Colombia. The four ministers discussed common interests in the WTO negotiations and the need for joint efforts in advancing those interests.
  • Following this meeting, the four Western Agriculture Ministers issued a joint press release on July 22, 2008 emphasized the importance of a WTO agreement for the growth and sustainability of the provincial and national economies.
  • Minister Groeneveld and Minister Bjornerud met with Mr. Eckart Guth, European Commission Ambassador to the WTO, who provided the two ministers with a brief assessment of the dynamics of the negotiations. Minister Groeneveld reiterated the messages he conveyed to Ambassador Guth when the two met first in May 2008 stressing Alberta’s priorities in the WTO negotiations.
  • Ambassador Guth underlined the significance of the EC’s recent offer to cut import tariffs and reiterated the EC’s commitment to finalizing the negotiations this year. The two Ministers encouraged the EC to continue to play a leadership role to finalize the negotiations sooner rather than later.

July 23, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld and Minister Bjornerud met with WTO Deputy Director Generals (DDG) Rufus Yerxa and Harsha Singh and received debriefs on the state of the WTO negotiations. Minister Groeneveld expressed Alberta’s support for the WTO multilateral trading system and reiterated Alberta’s interests in a strong outcome.
  • The meeting with the delegation from Japan’s House of Representatives who were in Geneva for the ministerial meeting covered issues related to the WTO negotiations and Japan-Alberta/Canada trade relations. Japan is Alberta’s second-largest agriculture trade partner, after the US.
  • Minister Counsellor and Deputy Permanent Representative of Brazil to the WTO, Mr. Paulo Estivallet De Mesquita, debriefed Minister Groeneveld and Minister Bjornerud on Brazil’s role and approach in the WTO negotiations. The discussions underlined the need to achieving a timely agreement that is ambitious and commercially meaningful. The two Ministers encouraged Brazil to continue to play a constructive leadership role as it has in the past.
  • At the daily debrief, Minister Groeneveld questioned Canada’s meetings with countries known for their defensive interests and that are seeking provisions that would water down a potential outcome. The Minister also expressed his disappointment that, while Canada has negotiators greatly admired by other countries, Canada’s position leaves a lot to be desired.

July 24, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld held a breakfast meeting with Minister Bjornerud and discussed further joint actions regarding the WTO negotiations.
  • The two ministers met with Mr. Li Enheng, Minister, Deputy Permanent Representative of China, and discussed areas of progress and difficulties in the WTO negotiations. Mr. Enheng reiterated China’s support for a WTO agreement.
  • The issue of differential tariffs between canola and other competing products such as soybeans was raised, but the Deputy Permanent Representative was not aware of such a difference, nor China’s rationale for it.
  • The meeting with New Zealand’s agriculture team underscored the similar interests and positions between New Zealand and Alberta regarding an ambitious agreement sooner rather than later. The discussions also covered the success of New Zealand’s economic reform.
  • The meeting with the US delegation led by Ms. Constance Jackson, Associate Administrator, US Department of Agriculture/Foreign Agriculture Services, covered a debrief on developments, dynamics, and major contentious issues of the negotiations and the US’s leadership role.

July 25, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld attended a meeting called by the federal Minister Ritz and Minister Fortier, especially for provincial ministers. The Minister also met with Canada’s Chief Agriculture Negotiator. Once again, Minister Groeneveld reiterated Alberta’s interests and urged Canada to show flexibility and leadership to achieve a strong agreement.

July 26, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld met with a representative of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and discussed the role of the Chamber in advocating for a strong and timely WTO outcome. The discussion also covered non-WTO issues such as the Country of Origin Labeling where the Chamber could play a significant role in defending Canada’s export interests.
  • Minister Groeneveld participated in a debrief by the federal ministers on the WTO negotiations.
  • Minister Groeneveld also held daily meetings with Albertan, and Canadian industry representatives who were in Geneva for the ministerial meeting. These sessions allowed the Minister and industry representatives to share information and views on the negotiations.

Honourable George Groeneveld, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Michael Norris, Executive Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Colin Jeffares, Assistant Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Rural Development
Daryl Hanak, Executive Director, Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations
Shiferaw Adilu, Senior Trade Policy Analyst, Agriculture and Rural Development
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This document is maintained by Kelly Bernard.
This information published to the web on September 5, 2008.
Last Reviewed/Revised on July 9, 2015.