The members of the Cairns Group held their sixteenth Ministerial Meeting in Cartagena, Colombia on 13-14 June. An observer delegation from South Africa attended the meeting.
Ministers noted that this year marked the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Cairns Group. They agreed that the achievements of the Group in its first decade had strengthened their individual and collective determination to continue work to achieve a global system free of distortions for agricultural trade.
Ministers expect the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Singapore in six months time to be a major focus of this ongoing work.
Cairns Group Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the liberalisation of agricultural trade recognizing the very significant and positive contribution that an open world trading environment can make to economic growth and living standards around the world in both developed and developing countries.
Ministers noted also that further effective agricultural trade liberalisation would make a positive contribution to world food security. In this context, Ministers emphasised the importance of actively and positively participating in the World Food Summit in Rome and agreed to consult closely on their approach to this meeting.
Cairns Ministers noted that the Uruguay Round outcome on agriculture was important in charting a new direction for agricultural trade liberalisation, but was a first step only. They noted in particular:
the market access improvements secured through the elimination of quantitative restrictions on imports, the binding of all tariffs on all agricultural products, and tariff reductions;
the negotiated reductions in export subsidies which are helping to put global agricultural trade on a less distorted and more market?oriented basis; and
the implementation of the SPS Agreement which is helping discipline the use of unjustified barriers to trade.
Cairns Group Ministers noted that greater effort was required to achieve the elimination of export subsidies, to discipline trade-distorting domestic support - recognising that many forms of such support have been exempted from commitments - and to achieve further significant improvements in market access.
Cairns Ministers noted the important work carried out by the Committee on Agriculture since the introduction of the Uruguay Round agreements in January 1995 in conducting the important task of monitoring and surveillance of the implementation of Uruguay Round commitments. During this first period, the work was especially addressed to monitoring implementation of market access commitments.
Ministers noted the significance of the SPS Agreement to trade liberalisation and emphasised in this context the importance of the effective functioning of the SPS Committee in monitoring implementation and as a forum for consultation.
Ministers agreed that the implementation of the Uruguay Round commitments on agriculture was proceeding well but that some specific problems had been identified that would be brought to the attention of Ministers in Singapore. Similarly, concerns were expressed about the maintenance of unjustified sanitary and phytosanitary measures which restricted access to markets.
Ministers therefore stressed the importance they attach to all WTO members implementing fully their Uruguay Round commitments on Agriculture and SPS measures. Ministers called for the first WTO biennial Ministerial meeting in December 1996 to carry out a thorough review of the implementation of commitments.
Cairns Group Ministers recalled that Article 20 of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture provides for further multilateral negotiations on agricultural trade liberalisation to take place before the end of the decade. Similarly, they noted that Article 12 of the SPS Agreement mandates a review of the operation and implementation of that Agreement by 1997.
While expressing their clear support for the time-frames established in the Uruguay Round for the commencement of further negotiations on agriculture, Cairns Ministers indicated their clear readiness to begin negotiations at an earlier date, if a consensus to do so could be achieved.
Recognising the commitment to further liberalisation of agriculture set out in the "built-in agenda", Ministers adopted a 'Cartagena Compact' to pursue through the Committee on Agriculture and at the WTO Ministerial meeting a commitment to a realistic and balanced program of work to prepare for the resumption of negotiations. This program of work should be in accordance with Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture, would not prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and should start in 1997. It should cover all the key areas that are expected to be the focus of further negotiations on agriculture - including, in particular, issues relating to domestic support, market access and export subsidies ? so that further negotiations when resumed can be completed speedily and successfully.
Cairns Ministers also called on all WTO members to ensure that the Marrakesh Ministerial Decision on "Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Program on Least Developed and Net Food Importing Developing Countries? is fully implemented. This should include, where necessary, dialogue with other international institutions primarily responsible for formulating appropriate policies relating to food aid, technical assistance and financing problems.
In this context, Cairns Ministers noted that the current problems being encountered by net food importing countries, particularly the least developed countries, stem primarily from temporary market conditions for agricultural products rather than the implementation of commitments negotiated in the Uruguay Round. Cairns Ministers declared their firm intention to oppose export restrictions which would limit the supply of agricultural products on world markets and exacerbate problems faced by net food importing countries, applying the concept of "responsible liberalisation".
Ministers expressed strong concern about unilateral and extra-territorial actions which create dangerous precedent and potential threat to the multilateral trade and investment regime.
Cairns Ministers reiterated their concern to ensure an early conclusion of a multilateral understanding on agricultural export credits.
Finally, Cairns Ministers reiterated their commitment to further multilateral liberalisation of agricultural trade being an integral and essential part of any further broad ranging multilateral negotiations as envisaged by the outcome of the Uruguay Round negotiations.
The WTO committee on agriculture (coa) is mandated to undertake a comprehensive, balanced program of preparatory work for the next round of negotiations on agriculture in accordance with article 20 of the agriculture agreement including in the three areas of; market access, internal support and export subsidies. The preparatory work program in each of these three areas should encompass issues related to:
- The implementation of uruguay round concessions and commitments;
- Further improvements within the framework of rules and specific binding commitments already agreed to;
- Changes in the framework of the uruguay round agreement on agriculture; and
- Elements of the uruguay round agreement on agriculture which are considered to be transitional.