Agriculture in the WTO: Limits on Domestic Support
CRS Report for Congress
Agriculture in the WTO:
Limits on Domestic Support
Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Most provisions of the current “farm bill,” the Farm Security and Rural Investment
Act (FSRIA) of 2002 (P.L. 107-171), do not expire until 2007. However, hearings on
a 2007 farm bill could begin in late 2005. At that time, Congress will begin to examine
farm income and commodity price support proposals that might succeed the programs
due to expire in 2007. A key question likely to be asked of virtually every new proposal
is how it will affect U.S. commitments under the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture
(AA), which commits the United States to spend no more than $19.1 billion annually
on domestic farm support programs most likely to distort trade. The AA spells out the
rules for countries to determine whether their policies are potentially trade distorting,
and to calculate the costs. This report, which will be updated if events warrant,
describes the steps for making these determinations.
Major farm income and commodity price support provisions of the last omnibus
farm bill, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (FSRIA) of 2002 (P.L. 107-171),1
do not expire until 2007. However, discussions of a 2007 farm bill are already underway
within various farm and commodity organizations. The House and possibly the Senate
Agriculture Committees could begin hearings on a new farm bill before the end of 2005.
Such hearings would mark the official start to an examination of the options for
modifying and extending the current programs. One major constraint affecting future
policy choices will be U.S. agricultural policy commitments made under the WTO’s2
Agreement on Agriculture (AA).
1 For more information, see CRS Report RS22131, Agriculture: Previewing a Farm Bill.
2 The official text of the AA is at [http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/legal_e.htm#ag].
For more information, see WTO, Understanding the WTO: the Agreements, “Agriculture: Fairer
Markets for Farmers,” at [http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/agrm3_e.htm].
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Regarding domestic farm programs, the AA contains detailed rules and procedures
to guide countries in determining which programs are the most likely to distort production
and trade (known as amber box subsidies); in calculating their annual cost, measured by
the aggregate measurement of support (AMS) index; and in reporting total cost to the
WTO. The United States currently is committed, under the AA, to spending no more than
$19.1 billion per year on amber box support. So, a key question that policymakers will ask
of virtually every new farm proposal is: How will it affect U.S. commitments under the
AA? The answer rests not only on cost, but also on the proposal’s design and objectives.
AA Provisions for Domestic Farm Spending
The WTO’s AA procedures for classifying and counting trade-distorting support are
somewhat complex. However, four questions might be asked to determine whether a
particular farm measure will cause total U.S. domestic support to be above or below the
$19.1 billion annual limit.
1. Can the measure be classified as a “green box” policy — one presumed to have the
least potential for distorting production and trade and therefore not counted?
2. Can it be classified as a “blue box” policy — that is, a production limiting program
that receives a special exemption and also therefore not counted?
3. If it is a potentially trade-distorting “amber box” policy, can support still be excluded
from the AMS calculation because the total is no more than 5% of annual production
value (the so-called 5% de minimis exemption, explained later in more detail)?
4. If such support does exceed the 5% threshold, when it is added to all other forms of
non-exempt support, is total U.S. AMS still beneath the $19.1 billion maximum?
Can This Measure Be Placed in the Green Box?
To qualify for exemption in the green box (AA, Annex 2), a program must:
1. Be a publicly funded government program (defined to include either outlays or
forgone revenue) that does not involve transfers from consumers, and also
2. Not have the effect of providing price support to producers, and also
!A “general service” benefitting the agriculture or rural community in
general cannot involve direct payments to producers or processors. Such
programs can include research; pest and disease control; training,
extension, or advisory services; inspection services, including for health,
safety, grading, or standardization; marketing and promotion services,
including information advice and promotion (but not spending for
unspecified purposes that sellers could use to provide price discounts or
other economic benefits to purchasers); and generally available
infrastructure like utility, transportation, or port facilities; water supply
facilities, or other capital works construction);
!Public acquisition (at current market prices) and stockholding of
products for food security must be integral to a nationally legislated
food security program and be financially transparent;
!Domestic food aid is to be based upon clearly defined eligibility and
nutritional criteria, be financially transparent, and involve government
food purchases at current market prices;
!“Decoupled” income support is to use clearly defined eligibility criteria
in a specified, fixed base period; not be related in any way after the base
period to (a) domestic or world prices, (b) type or volume, of crop or
livestock production, or (c) factors of production; and, further, not be
contingent on any production in exchange for payments;
!Government financial participation in an income insurance or income
safety net program should define eligibility as agricultural income loss
exceeding 30% of average gross income (or equivalent in net income
terms) in the preceding three-year period (or preceding five-year period,
excluding the highest and lowest years — the so-called olympic average),
with such payment compensating for less than 70% of the income loss in
year of eligibility, and payments based solely on income — not
production, price, or production factors (and total annual payments under
this and natural disaster relief [see below] cannot exceed 100% of a
producer’s total loss);
!Payments (whether direct or through government crop insurance) for
natural disaster relief are to use eligibility based on formal government
recognition of the disaster, payments determined by a production loss
exceeding 30% of production in the preceding three-year (or five-year
olympic average) period, applied only to losses of income, livestock,
land, or other production factors, and for not more than the total
replacement cost, and not requiring types/quantities of future production
(and total annual payments under this and the above measure cannot
exceed 100% of a producer’s total loss);
!Structural adjustment through producer retirement shall tie
eligibility to clearly defined criteria in programs to facilitate producers’
“total and permanent” retirement from agricultural production or their
movement into non-agricultural activities;
!Structural adjustment through resource retirement shall be
determined through clearly defined programs designed to remove land,
livestock, or other resources from marketable production, with payments
(a) conditioned on land being retired for at least three years and on
livestock being permanently disposed; (b) not contingent upon any
alternative specified use of such resources involving marketing
agricultural production; and (c) not related to production type/quantity,
or to prices of products using remaining productive resources;
!Structural adjustment provided through investment aids must be
determined by clearly defined criteria for programs assisting financial or
physical restructuring of a producer’s operations in response to
objectively demonstrated structural disadvantages (and may also be based
on a clearly defined program for “reprivatization” of agricultural land).
The amount of payments (a) cannot be tied to type/volume of production,
or to prices, in any year after the base period; (b) shall be provided only
for a time period needed for realization of the investment in respect of
which they are provided; (c) cannot be contingent on the required
production of designated products (except to require them not to produce
a designated product); and (d) must be limited to the amount required to
compensate for the structural disadvantage;
!Environmental program payments must have eligibility determined as
part of a clearly defined government environmental or conservation
program, and be dependent upon meeting specific program conditions,
including conditions related to production methods or inputs; and
payments must be limited to the extra costs (or loss of income) involved
with program compliance;
!Regional assistance program payments shall be limited only to
producers in a clearly designated, contiguous geographic region with
definable economic and administrative identity, considered to be
disadvantaged based on objective, clearly defined criteria in the law or
regulation, which indicate that the region’s difficulties are more than
temporary. Such payments in any year (a) shall not be related to or based
on type/volume of production in any year after the base period (other than
to reduce production) or to prices after the base period; (b) where related
to production factors, must made at a degressive rate above a threshold
level of the factor concerned; and (c) must be limited to the extra costs
or income loss involved in agriculture in the prescribed area.
In conclusion, the above measures are eligible for placement in the green box (i.e.,
exempted from AMS) as long as they (1) meet general criteria one and two, above; and
(2) additionally comply with any criteria specific to the type of measure itself. If these
conditions are satisfied, no further steps are necessary; the measure is exempt. However,
if not, then the next step is to determine whether it qualifies for the blue box exemption.
Can This Measure Be Placed in the Blue Box?
To qualify for exemption in the blue box (AA, Article 6.5), a program must:
Be a direct payment under a production limiting program, and also either
!Be based on fixed areas and yields, or
!Be made on 85% or less of the base level of production, or:
!If livestock payments, be made on a fixed number of head.
If these conditions are satisfied, the measure is exempt. However, if not, then they
are considered to be amber box policies, and the next step is to determine whether
spending is above or below the 5% de minimis rate (see below).
If Amber, Will This Support Exceed 5% of Production Value?
The AA (Article 6.4) states that developed country members (including the United
States) do not have to count, when calculating their total AMS, the following “amber
box” (i.e., potentially trade-distorting) policies:
!Product-specific domestic support where it does not exceed 5% of the
member’s “total value of production of a basic agricultural product
during the relevant year.” Support provided through all of the measures
specific to a product — not just a single measure in question — is tallied
to determine whether the 5% level is exceeded.
!Non-product-specific domestic support where it does not exceed 5%
of the “value of the member’s total agricultural production.” All non-
product-specific support — not just a single measure — is tallied to
determine whether the 5% level is exceeded.
These provisions are known as the so-called de minimis clause. To reiterate, it is not
enough to determine whether a single amber box measure (i.e., one not classified as either
green or blue) by itself may be beneath the 5% of production value trigger. Its level of
support must be added to the support provided by other non-exempt (amber box)
measures. If the cost of this particular measure effectively boosts total support above 5%,
then all such support must be counted toward the U.S. total annual AMS.
Does This Total Annual AMS Now Exceed $19.1 Billion?
Finally, all support that fails to qualify for an exemption is added for the year.
!If the total does not exceed $19.1 billion then the United States has met
its WTO commitment.
!If it does exceed $19.1 billion, the United States has not met its WTO
Classification of U.S. Policies
The last U.S. notification to the WTO was for 2001. Following are examples of how
various U.S. domestic policies were classified in that notification.
Green Box Policies
!USDA research, cooperative extension, and economics programs;
!Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) pest and disease
!Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) meat and poultry inspection;
!Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Grain Inspection, Packers and
Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), and other marketing services,
including grading, quality inspection, and market news;
!Domestic food programs, including food stamps, school food, the special
supplemental food program for women, infants, and children (WIC), and
Section 32 food purchases;
!Agricultural Market Transition Act (AMTA) (production flexibility)
payments; which are considered “decoupled”;
!Food security commodity reserve;
!Disaster payments for livestock and crop losses due to natural disasters;
!Conservation programs like conservation operations and the
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP);
!Farm credit, including Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm ownership and
operating loans; and state mediation programs;
!The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP, considered to be exempt as
structural adjustment through resource retirement).
Blue Box Policies
!Target price deficiency payments (which ended with 1996 farm law).
Amber Box Policies
!Dairy price support;
!Sugar price support;
!Peanut price support;
!Marketing loan benefits, including gains from repaying marketing loans
at less than the loan rate; loan deficiency payments; user marketing
Non-product specific support:
!Federal crop insurance (value of indemnities less premiums paid).
Negotiations are now under way in the WTO to further reform agricultural trade.
They are not expected to be completed before Congress decides on a new farm bill. As
lawmakers consider policy options, other countries will be evaluating not only whether,
in their view, these options will comply with the U.S. commitments under the AA, but
also how they reflect on the U.S. negotiating position in the ongoing talks. The U.S.
objective is for negotiations to result in substantial reductions in trade-distorting support
and stronger rules that ensure that all production-related support is subject to discipline,
while preserving criteria-based “green box” policies that can support agriculture in ways
that minimize trade distortions. At the same time, Congress might seek methods that it
can justify as AA-compliant. U.S. officials also may seek to influence multilateral roles
in ways that are consistent with U.S. domestic support policy aims and measures (See
CRS Report RS21905, Agriculture in the WTO Doha Round: The Framework Agreement
and Next Steps.)