Cairns Group Ministers in Seattle welcomed Bolivia, Costa Rica and Guatemala as new members of the Cairns Group at today's meeting. The expansion of the Group to 18 members, accounting for one third of world agricultural exports, highlights the growing demand for fundamental reform of agriculture.
Expanded developing country membership reflects the importance to developing countries of removing the protectionism that has plagued agriculture for too long.
The Group reaffirmed its commitment to concrete special and differential treatment provisions to address the concerns of developing countries.
Cairns Ministers expect to see a decision by WTO Ministers that enables negotiations to begin on time, conclude by 2003 and deliver the objective of "fundamental reform" agreed in the Uruguay Round. This means providing substantial improvement in market access, and the elimination of all forms of export subsidies and other trade and production distorting subsidies.
Ministers noted there was now overwhelming support for the elimination of agricultural export subsidies with recent support for this outcome from APEC members, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and the G77 group of developing countries. No country can seriously support a situation where poor developing countries are forced to compete with exports dumped on international markets by a few rich industrialised countries.
Cairns Ministers stressed they are working closely with other developing countries, as well as the United States, to ensure such an outcome can be achieved in the negotiations.
Cairns Ministers said agriculture was now the only sector facing systematic discrimination in the WTO. This could not be allowed to continue. After more than 50 years of the GATT/WTO, trade in agricultural goods should be on the same footing as trade in other goods. Cairns Ministers particularly welcomed the support shown by many developing countries for the goal of progressively integrating agriculture into the WTO system. This would help unlock the development potential of many countries.
Cairns Ministers called on the few remaining countries who were resisting this to think again. A strong and early decision on agriculture would be a key element in ensuring the success of the Seattle meeting. For many countries the outcome on agriculture would be fundamental to whether they could agree to a broader work program for the WTO.