Cairns Group Statement on Multifunctionality

26 April 2000

Delivered by the Australian Minister for the Environment Senator the Hon Robert Hill at the Eighth Meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development

New York, 26 April 2000

Mr Chairman

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Cairns Group of 18 agricultural fair trading countries, namely, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.

We would like to make a brief statement on multifunctionality in the CSD context. Specifically, we wish to draw the Commission's attention to Cairns Group concerns about the possible inclusion of so divisive an issue as multifunctionality in CSD outcomes. The concept of multifunctionality is important to the cairns group and we fully recognise that there are legitimate non-trade objectives that all nations have a sovereign right to address - food security, rural and urban employment, landscape and environmental issues are among them. We have these same concerns. The key issue is which policies best achieve such non-trade objectives.

Discussions of multifunctionality in the international context have made one fact clear: multifunctionality is being used by some developed countries to justify their high levels of protection and other trade-distorting policies.

Trade in agriculture remains subject to profound and costly distortions. Protectionist policies have severely hampered economic growth and damaged employment. In 1998, agricultural support within the OCED totalled some US$ 362 billion - higher than the US$ 326 billion provided when the Uruguay Round began.

As has been long recognised, these policies have already done significant damage to other countries, and, in particular, to developing countries. Subsidised exports outcompete domestic producers and depress world prices. These outcomes in combination with market access barriers, penalise developing countries through lower agricultural production for their domestic and export markets.

Trade-distorting policies not only hamper the development of local agriculture in developing countries but reduce the availability of efficient sources of food globally. This situation adversely affects the food security of developing countries, most of which must import some of their food requirements.

The cairns group supports the food security and rural development objectives of developing countries. Indeed, in the WTO, and in the context of moving towards a more liberalising trading environment, the Group supports putting enough flexibility into special and differential provisions for developing countries to allow them to achieve these vital objectives.

In short, the Cairns Group believes that the concept of multifunctionality put forward by advocates of protectionist policies does not serve the interests of developing countries. Non-trade objectives should not be used as a smoke screen for protectionist policies which perpetuate hunger and environmental degradation. The focus of the work of the Commission should be to promote sustainable agriculture and rural development.

It is particularly disappointing that the issue of multifunctionality should arise at CSD after the FAO Ministerial Conference in November last year concluded that ``there is currently no consensus on the meaning of the concept of the multifunctional character of agriculture, nor on a role for FAO with respect to work on it.''

The Cairns Group could not accept the references to multifunctionality, which were included in the `Possible Elements for Decision' paper, in the final decision of this meeting. Furthermore, we could not accept any endorsement of further work on the concept either in CSD, FAO, or in any open-ended working group outside these bodies. To do so would only serve to jeopardise agreement on the broader CSD work program before us. We should not allow our important work here to be sidetracked onto divisive issues which are not in the interests of achieving sustainable agricultural development.

Last Updated: 24 February 2016