We, the Ministers of the Cairns Group, met in Bali on 2 December to discuss our common interests in agricultural trade and trade policy, including the agricultural elements of the Bali Package at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference and the future of the multilateral agriculture negotiations.
2. We are disappointed that we are not yet in a position to say we have successfully concluded a “Bali Package.” Tremendous efforts have been made this year to negotiate a package which would include trade facilitation and some elements of development and agriculture. This package has importance beyond its individual decisions. It is a signal to the world that the WTO has the capacity to reach negotiated outcomes on trade issues at the multilateral level, including on agriculture. For this reason we urge all WTO Members to engage constructively in Bali in order to find a path forward for the multilateral trading system.
3. From the Cairns Group’s perspective, Members’ willingness to negotiate this year marks an important opportunity for broader re-engagement on agriculture over the coming year. For the Cairns Group, agriculture remains a central pillar of the negotiations, given the significance of the agriculture sector to jobs and growth. Agriculture trade reforms can only be addressed fairly and effectively through the WTO.
4. We are extremely disappointed the WTO membership did not agree to put an end to export subsidies this year as agreed in the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial Declaration. It is unacceptable that these most trade distorting measures remain in agriculture more than half a century after their elimination for industrial products. While the recommitment to the complete elimination of export subsidies; commitments to continue the reform; and sustained lower spending on export subsidies are important pre-conditions, our resolve to see the final elimination of agricultural export subsidies remains as strong as ever, as well as our determination to ensure disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect. We will use the potential opportunities provided by enhanced transparency on export subsidies, and a planned review at the next Ministerial Conference, to push for our desired end result. There is no justifiable reason to maintain agriculture export subsidies which are an anomaly in the multilateral trade rules system.
5. The Cairns Group recognises that food security is a complex and multi-faceted issue. We understand that open, fair and well-functioning markets spur investment, and create new opportunities for growth in output and improvements in farmers’ incomes. Furthermore, we recognise policies which distort trade and production in agricultural products can impede long term food security. We fully support the central role of the FAO in the global governance of food security. The Cairns Group has pursued reforms through the Doha agriculture negotiations so vigorously because, amongst other things, we recognise that trade policy reform has a role to play in addressing food security. In the pursuit of outcomes this year we are pleased Members have affirmed not to distort trade.
6. The reform-oriented proposed outcome on TRQ administration seeks to improve the operation of tariff rate quotas, this represents a small step towards improving the existing Uruguay Round disciplines on market access.
7. On the issue of cotton, we welcome the commitment to improved transparency on market access, domestic support and export subsidy measures as they relate to the cotton trade. We support these efforts as a stepping stone to achieving a final outcome on cotton, in accordance with the Hong Kong mandate, bearing in mind the significance of this issue as a developmental outcome, particularly in Africa.
8. We recognise the continued efforts of the Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture and the new impetus given to negotiations by the efforts of the WTO Director General.
Getting agriculture negotiations back on track
9. While we are striving to achieve some outcomes this year, it is also important to reflect upon what we have yet to achieve. The elements of the Bali Package all have their origins in the Doha draft agriculture modalities. However, the bulk of these modalities have yet to be delivered upon. We need to secure a way ahead for the Doha Round negotiations which will deliver genuine reforms in accordance with the Doha mandate including special and differential treatment. To this end, we will continue to work on the basis of the draft modalities.
10. While we wait to see the final outcomes on the United States Farm Bill and the final approval of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package, we consider some of these policies would fall short of the types of reforms envisaged in the Doha Round mandate. Cairns Group Members understand reforms should not be delayed waiting for “better times.” We encourage Members to continue reforms as these reforms have the potential to offer direct benefits in terms of improved productivity and budgetary relief and also significant positive effects for the global trading system.
11. In the absence of negotiations multilaterally, the bound levels of tariffs, domestic support and export subsidy measures remain the same as the high levels locked in during the Uruguay Round. There is still considerable scope within the existing WTO agriculture commitments to increase levels of support and protection and distort international trade. Our objective remains to level the playing field by substantially improving market access, eliminating export subsidies and significantly reducing the level of trade distorting domestic support, and resisting efforts to go backwards.
12. In this regard, we need to devise a way to get agriculture negotiations back on track. While agricultural production and trading patterns continue to evolve, it is still the case that delivering on a comprehensive package of agriculture trade reforms, in accordance with the Doha mandate, would go a long way to improving food security, development and addressing some of the inequities inherent in the current trading system.
13. In this context, the Cairns Group calls for the immediate post-Bali work programme to take forward agriculture issues as a priority given their importance to development, in particular in developing countries. This work programme should be implemented in accordance with the Doha mandate, and take account of up-to-date information and trends in agricultural trade, including through the enhanced transparency. Through these efforts we will seek to build the necessary political consensus to bring the agriculture negotiations to a conclusion.
The Cairns Group moving forward
14. The Cairns Group has always sought to promote further agriculture trade reform in order to create a fairer and more predictable trading environment for all agriculture producers. The Cairns Group continues to be concerned by the trend of import restrictions inconsistent with the Agreements on the Application on Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures and on Technical Barriers to Trade on agricultural products and stresses the importance of relying on science-based approaches to resolving market access issues. We must limit the potential for overly complex SPS measures and technical regulations, including food labelling, to act as barriers to trade.
15. We are pleased Viet Nam has formally joined the Cairns Group at this meeting as our 20th Member. We believe that Viet Nam will make an invaluable contribution to our ongoing efforts to improve the situation of farmers, including in particular those in developing countries.
16. We appreciate the presentation by our Farm Leaders following their own meeting in Bali and will look to continue to engage them actively in the coming months in our forward work planning. We also express our deepest gratitude to Indonesia for hosting this Ministerial Meeting.