The seventeenth ministerial meeting of the Cairns Group was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 5-6 June 1997. Observer delegations from Bolivia and South Africa also participated in the meeting.
Ministers formally welcomed Paraguay as the newest member of the Cairns Group. They noted that the participation of Paraguay would strengthen the capacity of the group to work for a fairer and freer international agricultural trading system.
In this connection, Ministers agreed that among the principal strengths of the Cairns Group were the diversity of its membership and the broad span of its members' interests in the full range of trade in agricultural products. Over the next two years, the Cairns Group would give priority to fostering even broader support for further agricultural liberalisation. Ministers indicated their willingness in this regard to consider applications from possible new members who were prepared to commit themselves to the shared principles of the Cairns Group and pursue further substantial liberalisation of trade in agriculture.
Ministers examined a range of international agricultural market and policy developments and concluded that there were some positive signs of potential for further substantial agricultural trade reform. They urged the European Union to continue with the process of reforming its Common Agricultural Policy and to ensure that such reform would be consistent with a further substantial, sustained reduction in agricultural protection. They welcomed the continuing implementation of the United States' FAIR Act and the reform being undertaken of the agriculture sector in the United States. Ministers encouraged all countries to continue with the process of liberalising agriculture, noting the benefits agricultural liberalisation offered to consumers and efficient producers throughout the world.
Ministers agreed that accession to the World Trade Organisation of current and potential important agriculture exporters and importers would have a major effect on agriculture trade. They expressed support for new WTO members on terms which were acceptable to all WTO members and which maintained the integrity of the rules based system. Ministers highlighted that new WTO members would need to comply fully with WTO disciplines, particularly those relating to market access, domestic support and export subsidies. Ministers confirmed in this regard that export subsidies were not acceptable in the absence of such measures in the most recent representative three year period. Ministers also expected WTO applicants to agree to a standstill commitment during the accession negotiations and to commit themselves to providing effective and trade creating market access opportunities to all WTO members.
Ministers expressed disappointment that to date negotiations in the OECD had failed to develop effective disciplines on the use of export credits on agricultural products and agreed to urge all participants to make further efforts to complete this work as soon as possible.
Ministers reaffirmed the need for all countries to refrain from actions which might destabilise international agriculture and called on the European Union and the United States to continue to show restraint in the use of export subsidies, and urged them not to introduce export restrictions.
Ministers reeffirmed the importance of the full implementation of the WTO Agreements on Agriculture and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Ministers emphasised the need to ensure that all WTO members respect both the letter and the spirit of the disciplines in all areas of these agreements. They welcomed the fact that the WTO Committee on Agriculture had moved beyond market access issues in its monitoring and surveillance of the implementation of Uruguay Round commitments and had begun to give more attention to export subsidies and domestic support. They noted that WTO members' experience in the implementation of commitments would be an important input into preparations for the next round of agriculture negotiations. Ministers were also pleased to note that the WTO's Committee on SPS had made some progress, including through placing more emphasis on trade issues and providing a forum for discussing SPS related trade concerns. They agreed to coordinate effectively in the review of the SPS Agreement that will take place in 1998.
Ministers welcomed the steps taken in the WTO Committee on Agriculture to implement the decision taken at the WTO Ministerial Conference held in Singapore in December 1996 to undertake a focused work program of analysis and information exchange (AE). Ministers noted the role that issues raised in the implementation of the Agriculture Agreement would play in the analysis and information exchange process.
Ministers also noted, however, that the scope of the AIE process related to all relevant provisions of the Agriculture Agreement, including issues other than implementation concerns. Ministers noted the constructive role played by the other WTO members in initiating the AIE process and looked forward to this continuing as the consultations began to address a broader range of issues in more detail. Ministers expected that the analysis and information exchange would allow al1 members to build a thorough understanding of issues and help identify those that would need to be tackled in the Agriculture Negotiations scheduled to begin in 1999.
Ministers noted that the half-way point between the end of the Uruguay Round and the start of the new round on agriculture negotiations had now been reached. They stressed the importance of adequate preparations for the next round of agriculture negotiations in order for such negotiations to begin on time and to be concluded expeditiously. They affirmed their determination to work constructively with all WTO members in preparing for these negotiations.
Ministers reeffirmed the contribution that removing agricultural trade restrictions and distortions can make to sustainable development and promoting the objective of mutually supportive trade and environment policies and agreed to pursue this issue further, including in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment.
Ministers affirmed their determination to work together to ensure that the interests of the Cairns Group were actively and effectively pursued in the WTO Ministerial Conferences which would be held before the commencement of the next round of agriculture negotiations.
Ministers reiterated their commitment to further multilateral liberalisation of agricultural trade as an integral and essential part of the development of the multilateral trade system. They emphasised the importance of the next agriculture negotiations providing the framework for an outcome in the three areas of export subsidies, domestic support and market access which would bring the treatment of agriculture in the WTO in line with other sectors. Ministers agreed that a balanced outcome in the three areas was required and in a way that would encourage economic growth and employment opportunities for all WTO Members, and acknowledge the legitimate needs of developing countries