Agricultural Trade Disputes in the WTO

Agricultural trade has generated more than its share of disputes in the past fifty years. Lack of a clear structure of rules to constrain government activity in these markets, coupled with the particularly sensitive nature of trade in basic foodstuffs, has been the main cause of this disproportion. New rules agreed in the Uruguay Round provided an improved framework for government policy in this area, and a temporary exemption was given to certain subsidies from challenge in the WTO (the Peace Clause). However, the expiry of the Peace Clause in 2003 and a growing willingness on the part of exporters to challenge domestic farm programs in other countries through action under the Dispute Settlement Understanding has once again stirred the agricultural pot. Now trade disputes are frequently leading to litigation, encouraged by the slow progress in the Doha Round of trade negotiations. In particular, the scope for domestic subsidies, under the Agreement on Agriculture and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, has increasingly become the subject of litigation. Countries may have to further modify their domestic policies so as to reduce their vulnerability to challenge in the WTO.