The Cairns Group met in Geneva on 8-9 December to review developments in the Uruguay Round agriculture negotiations since its last meeting at Manaus, Brazil in July 1991 and to consider its approach to the final critical phase of the negotiations on agriculture.
Ministers renewed their determination, maintained over five years of joint effort to achieve fundamental and irreversible reform across all agricultural products. The Uruguay Round must provide a turning point by beginning a sustained and credible process to integrate agriculture fully into the general system of GATT rules and disciplines.
Prior to their meeting, Cairns Ministers met with Mr Arthur Dunkel, Chairman of both the agriculture negotiations and the Trade Negotiations Committee at officials level. They received his analysis of the current state of play on agriculture and on wider Uruguay Round negotiations and were briefed on his plans to achieve a political package of agreements in all areas by 20 December.
Ministers expressed their strong and continuing support for Mr Dunkel's efforts to narrow differences and establish reform mechanisms. They regard the concepts and framework contained in the Dunkel November working papers as providing important elements essential to an acceptable outcome, although there is a need for greater precision in many areas and further development of concepts.
Recalling that at their Manaus meeting they had urged G7 countries to exercise leadership in promoting domestic agricultural reform and trade liberalisation through the Uruguay Round, Cairns Ministers welcomed recent high-level efforts by the United States and European Community to progress outstanding agricultural issues. However, while bilateral discussions of this kind can assist in narrowing differences over key issues, they cannot substitute for the active participation of all parties in genuine multilateral Uruguay Round negotiations. Ministers made it clear that any acceptable outcome must address the objectives of the Cairns Group.
Noting reports that recent EC/US discussions have focussed on cuts over a 5-6 year period only and of a lesser overall magnitude than sought by the Cairns Group, Ministers recalled that they had indicated their preparedness to participate in an effective negotiation. However, a 5-6 year period could provide only a first substantive step and it would need to be supplemented by an unequivocal commitment to continue the process of agricultural reform.
Moreover, any flexibility on the numbers depends both on the base periods involved and also on the scope, integrity and effectiveness of the framework disciplines that will govern multilateral, formula-based reductions in support and protection applied equitably across all agricultural products. In this regard, Ministers stressed that a meaningful agricultural outcome must include:
reinstrumentation and reduction of border protection, assured increases in current market access and in minimum access levels (created where access has not been available in the past) and rejection of any increases in protection or other form of rebalancing
substantial reductions in export subsidies in volume and value terms, along with secure disciplines to prevent their extension to new products or new markets
the effective reduction and reinstrumentation of domestic support, including effective disciplines on all payments linked to production
disciplines on sanitary and phytosanitary measures which ensure that unjustified barriers are not created or maintained
meaningful differential and more favourable treatment to deal with the development needs of developing countries
Cairns Ministers emphasised that they would not accept any result that largely maintains under other guises existing levels of support, protection and trade distortion. They called upon those participants whose policies significantly distort world agricultural trade to demonstrate their commitment and the flexibility necessary to obtain a substantial and meaningful outcome.
They renewed their resolve that the Round could not and would not conclude, in whole or in part, without a substantial outcome on agriculture. For their part, Cairns Ministers recognised that such an outcome could be achieved only through a satisfactory and balanced overall package in the Uruguay Round. It is in clear acknowledgement of this that Cairns Group countries are participating actively and constructively across the Round.
Cairns Ministers expressed serious concern at the short time available to reach a political settlement and urged all Governments taking part in the Round to work expeditiously and constructively to achieve a satisfactory resolution. Ministers called in particular upon the major participants to accept their responsibilities at a moment when the world economy strongly needs the positive thrust of a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round.