We, the Ministers of the Cairns Group met in Geneva on 15 December in the margins of the WTO’s 8th Ministerial Conference to discuss international agriculture trade policy developments, including in the context of the WTO Doha Round agriculture negotiations.
2. At our last Ministerial Meeting in Saskatoon in September 2011, we discussed the state of the Doha Round; the need for continuing agriculture trade policy reform; the need to address trade-related and development aspects of food security; and the importance of science-based decision making in agricultural trade. These issues remain relevant to our discussions as we discuss the way forward for the WTO at the 8th Ministerial Conference.
3. The WTO, like the global economy, is facing challenging times. The Cairns Group wishes to underscore our strong support for the institution and its role in establishing the rules of international trade. In response to the economic downturn at that time, in the Doha Declaration in 2001 we indicated our determination to continue the process of reform of agricultural trade policies, thus ensuring that the system plays its full part in promoting recovery, growth and development. We also pledged to reject the use of protectionism. This statement remains true today in the current challenging global economic environment. As a group of developed and developing agricultural exporters, we recognise that fair and predictable agricultural markets free of distortions and open to global trade, are key drivers of economic growth and development. As part of this, we affirm our commitment to resisting protectionism in all its forms while recognising WTO rights and obligations. We also continue to affirm the WTO’s key role in keeping markets open and functioning effectively.
4. Since the last WTO Ministerial Conference in 2009, the prospects for an early conclusion to Doha have subsided and we are now at an impasse. For agriculture, as well as other parts of the negotiation, we must develop a realistic path forward that builds on the substantial progress already made. We agree there is a need to discuss whether there may be different approaches to break the current deadlock including the possibility of provisional agreements reached in advance of the single undertaking. This discussion must be in accordance with the Doha mandate and it must include agriculture which remains central to the negotiations, given its importance for development. Bearing in mind its significance as a developmental outcome, particularly in Africa, we remain committed to the early implementation of the Hong Kong mandate on cotton.
5. Agricultural trade policy reform is unfinished business. Considerable scope remains within some WTO members existing commitments to increase levels of protection and distort international trade. While deadlines such as the one to eliminate export subsidies by 2013 remain on the Doha “books” these are “paper gains” until such time as they can be locked in through a finalised agreement. We must find a way to deliver the agriculture mandate of the Doha Round.
6. In Saskatoon, we recognised food security as a complex and multifaceted issue and that trade policy reform has a role to play in addressing food security. We also recognised the role the FAO plays in achieving food security. Agricultural trade policy reforms are essential to the food security and poverty alleviation objectives of the Doha Development mandate. Open, fair and well-functioning domestic and international markets spur investment, and create new opportunities for growth in agricultural output and improvements in farmers’ income whereas, policies that distort production and trade in agricultural products can impede the achievement of long term food security. We will engage constructively in the work of the WTO through implementing the existing WTO Agreement on Agriculture and through the continuing Doha negotiations on agriculture to ensure that the trade-related aspects of food security are adequately addressed.
7. The Cairns Group takes note of the increasing trend of import restrictions inconsistent with the Agreements of the Application of Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures and on Technical Barriers to Trade on agricultural products. We consider it important to limit the potential for overly complex SPS measures and technical regulations, including food labelling, to act as barriers to trade. Members also discussed the increasing prevalence of private standards and the potential for these to impact on market access. We stress the importance of science-based approaches to resolve market access issues, as embodied in the principles set out under the WTO SPS and TBT agreements as well as in the work of international standard-setting bodies (Codex, OIE, IPPC).
8. We consider the WTO, as an institution is enhanced through new memberships. We welcome the new members, including Vanuatu, Samoa, Montenegro, and the Russian Federation. For the Russian Federation, they join the organisation after 18 years of accession negotiations. This demonstrates to us not only the commitment of the Russian Federation to this process but also the value of membership of this organisation. For Cairns Group Members, the finalisation of these accessions creates of sense of certainty about future economic engagement with these new members, as part of the rules-based multilateral trading system.
The Cairns Group comprises Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.