Cairns Group Ministers meeting in Doha stressed the fundamental importance of agricultural reform to the future of the world trading system. Agricultural reform is central to the work program that WTO Ministers are seeking to agree on.
Ministers expressed concern that fifty years of liberalisation under a rules-based world trading system had largely by-passed agricultural trade. Total support to agriculture in OECD countries continues at more than US$300 billion annually, five times the level of all official financial flows to developing countries and an amount roughly equal to the GNP of sub-Saharan Africa. This amount has not reduced from pre-Uruguay Round levels.
Ministers highlighted the particular importance of agricultural reform to the developing world. Distortions in world agricultural markets undermine the ability of developing countries to achieve sustained economic growth, promote development and eliminate poverty. Ministers said that agricultural reform was needed if developing countries were not to be left behind in the world trading system. Correcting the situation would result in increased incomes in developing countries, leading to global economic and social gains, including additional demand for imports of benefit to everyone.
Reaffirming the statement they made in Punta del Este in September this year, Ministers said they expected to see a decision by WTO Ministers in Doha on an ambitious negotiating mandate, including clear benchmarks and timetables, leading to the full integration of agriculture within the WTO rules and an end to discrimination against it in the WTO framework. Only then would agricultural producers be able to compete fairly on the basis of their comparative advantage.
Ministers noted their unwavering support for substantial reductions in trade and production-distorting domestic support, leading to its elimination, substantial improvements in market access and the elimination of all forms of export subsidies. Ministers noted that the majority of WTO Members supported an expeditious end to export subsidies.
Ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to enhanced and concrete special and differential treatment provisions across all areas to address the needs of developing countries.
Ministers agreed non-trade concerns relevant to the scope of the Agreement on Agriculture would be taken into account in the negotiations, but only through WTO-consistent, targeted and transparent measures which did not distort production and trade. They stressed the need to respect the proper relationship between non-trade concerns and the reform agenda in a manner consistent with the objective of the WTO of non-discriminatory liberalisation.
Ministers called for the negotiations to end expeditiously and for a substantial cut in support and protection in the first year of the implementation of a new agreement.
Ministers concluded by noting that agreement on an ambitious mandate for agricultural reform will be the key to a balanced outcome at Doha, thus ensuring that the multilateral trading system plays its full part in promoting economic recovery, growth and development.