Ministers and representatives of members of the Cairns Group (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Fiji, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand and Uruguay) met in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 21-23 November 1989.
The meeting provided the opportunity to review developments in the negotiations over recent months, to consider the terms of a negotiating proposal by the Cairns Group and to discuss future strategy.
At the meeting, Ministers agreed on a comprehensive Cairns Group proposal for the global reform and liberalisation of agricultural trade over a period of 10 years or less. They were confident that the formal tabling of the proposal at the November meeting of the Negotiating Group on Agriculture will reinforce the ongoing key role of the Cairns Group in the Uruguay Round negotiations. It should give new and much needed impetus to the negotiating process during the final critical twelve months of the Round.
The comprehensive proposal provides for the development of a more open and equitable trading system, based upon fair and universally applicable rules and disciplines.
The main elements of the integrated package of reform measures include:
- Substantial improvements in market access opportunities and greater transparency in the provision of border protection, including through the conversion of non-tariff measures to tariffs, combined with subsequent reductions and bindings of those tariffs at low or zero levels
- Prohibition of new, and phase out of existing, export subsidies
- Substantial reduction in, and disciplines on, the internal support provided to agriculture, with a focus on policy specific cuts to the most trade distorting forms of support and allowing scope for flexibility in the choice of reform mechanisms
- Greater disciplines on countervailing duty procedures and enforcement of all trade reform obligations through multilaterally agreed provisions
- Elaboration of the development dimension of trade in agriculture of interest to developing countries. The concerns of net food importing developing countries are also taken into account.
- Modalities for special and differential treatment for developing countries which are integrated into elements of the proposed reform process. As with other elements of the proposal, these will be developed and specified further to the negotiations evolve.
Ministers agreed that the proposal is a challenging, yet a realistic negotiating document. It fully meets the trade liberalising objectives for agriculture agreed at the April meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC). While it sees the benefits and burdens of reform shared between all MTN participants, the proposal points out that liberalisation commitments should be proportionate to current support and protection levels.
Ministers said that this proposal, taken in conjunction with the Cairns Group paper on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures tabled in September 1989, constituted a complete and pragmatic approach to reform and would provide a sound basis for negotiations in 1990. In discussing the Cairns Group's ongoing strategy for the Uruguay Round negotiations on agriculture, Ministers stated that the negotiations were now entering a crucial phase which would require constructive contributions from all participants.
Ministers welcomed the tabling of the constructive U.S. proposal on agriculture last month. They called on other participants, in particular the European Community and Japan, to advance comprehensive proposals that would give effect to the mandate for substantial, progressive reduction in agricultural support and protection agreed at the April TNC. This would move the negotiations forward at an early date.
They expressed disappointment at recent proposals and statements by some MTN participants which had indicated little more than a desire to maintain the status quo. Indeed in some instances positions taken were regressive in terms of liberalisation, and sought to reinterpret TNC commitments in a negative direction or to gain exemptions from the ongoing reform process.
Ministers recalled the serious and continuing damage caused to the economics of agricultural exporters, many of them developing countries, by protectionist policies and massive subsidisation in the major industrial countries. Ministers agreed that the Uruguay Round provided an historic opportunity to reform and liberalise world agricultural trade.
They noted that the Round was scheduled for completion at a Ministerial meeting in Brussels in December 1990 and the key position of agricultural liberalisation within it.
They emphasised that without a substantial outcome on agriculture, the Round cannot and will not be successfully concluded. For this reason Ministers reiterated that it was vital that momentum in the agriculture negotiations be maintained and that they not be allowed to drift in the early part of next year. In this respect Ministers considered it important that target dates be established for the first half of 1990 so that the stage can be act for a successful conclusion to the Round.
Ministers reaffirmed that the Cairns Group would continue to work closely together to achieve a fairer and more liberal world trading system for agriculture. As necessary this would involve the Group continuing its efforts to narrow the differences between other MTN participants so that a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations could be achieved by the end of next year.
Ministers noted statements by some Cairns Group participants concerning the need for support to be given to producers in remote areas to encourage diversification away from the growing of illicit narcotic crops.
Ministers noted that there is an urgent need for some other Governments to increase their efforts to better explain the advantages of agricultural trade reform.
Ministers welcomed the offer of Chile to host the next Ministerial meeting of the Cairns Croup at a time to be determined.
Ministers congratulated the Government of Thailand on its initiative in convening this meeting and expressed their sincere thanks for its hospitality.