The President of Bolivia, H.E. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, officially opened the 24th Cairns Group Ministerial meeting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on 18 October. The President welcomed the opportunity to meet with Cairns Group Ministers and special guests including Ambassador Robert Zoellick (United States Trade Representative), Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi (Director General of the WTO), Professor Edward Rugumayo (Minister for Tourism, Trade and Industry, Uganda) and His Excellency, Ambassador Sun Zhenyu (China’s Permanent Representative to the WTO).
“We, Ministers of the Cairns Group, meeting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, reiterate that fundamental reform of world agricultural trade is key to achieving the development objectives set out in the historic decision taken at Doha to launch the first Development Round. Its predecessor, the Uruguay Round, irrevocably established the principle that agriculture is an integral part of the international trading system. Since the implementation period concluded, however, almost no progress has been made towards actually reducing massive subsidisation and protection. Total support and protection for farmers in developed countries exceeded $310 billion in 2001 and significant market access barriers remain in place. Export subsidies in all their forms continue to deny unsubsidised agricultural producers trading opportunities, even in third countries.
The time has arrived for political leadership by those countries with the greatest adjustments to make. This leadership must be driven by an awareness that this is one of the last chances that the WTO Membership has to correct deep-seated inequities in the international trading system. A failure to act will have serious consequences for the future of global trade. Without a successful outcome in agriculture, the whole Doha process will be at risk. Ministers stressed that they were following the path of reform as agreed in Doha and expected other major participants to do the same. Such reform will be a pre-requisite to adjusting deep imbalances in the international trading system; it will promote growth, sustainable development and poverty alleviation and it will strengthen the economies of even the major subsidising countries.
Ministers said that holding the meeting in Bolivia brought home to them that development and poverty alleviation in developing countries depended on global agricultural trade reform. They said this reform comprises the phasing out of all forms of export subsidies, substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support and substantial improvements in market access for all agricultural products. The reform process should include the fullest liberalisation of market access of alternativeproducts of particular importance to the diversification of production instead of growing illicit narcotic crops. It should also include tropical products produced by developing countries. Special consideration should also be given to developing countries with socioeconomic problems including food security, rural employment and development.
Ministers observed that since their first meeting in Cairns, Australia, they had been instrumental in building a development coalition that recognised the central political importance of agriculture in any negotiation to improve the functioning of the world economy. Leaders at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg had, for example, underlined the fundamental importance of agricultural trade reform to economic development. The presence of distinguished guests at their 24th Ministerial Meeting at Santa Cruz equally underscored this wider significance.
Ministers said it was clear from their discussions in Santa Cruz that there was a strong commonality of view between the Cairns Group and the United States, Uganda and China about the ambition for agricultural trade liberalisation.
Ministers restated their readiness to negotiate with all WTO partners: “We have put forward specific proposals, based on the Doha mandate. We are ready to negotiate on the basis of these proposals. We also welcome the proposals that have been tabled by other parties to the negotiation – but note that certain of these proposals, particularly from some developed countries, by indicating a limited willingness to make fundamental reform, would retain most of the present imbalances”. Cairns Group Ministers stressed that the outcome of the negotiations must reflect the closely inter-related nature of the three ‘pillars’ of real agriculture reform: market access, domestic support and export competition.
Ministers pointed out that the absence of proposals from key negotiating partners greatly complicated the negotiating process. “We urge parties who have the major backlog of reforms to table proposals consistent with the agreed objective of a fair and market-oriented trading system. We recognise that countries may have legitimate non-trade concerns. But these do not constitute an excuse for a lack of engagement. Almost one year has passed since that mandate was agreed by all WTO Ministers at Doha.”
Cairns Group Ministers reaffirmed their readiness to continue constructive participation in the Doha Development Agenda. They noted that the various deadlines within the agriculture negotiations – the date of March 31 2003 for establishment of modalities being the most crucial – were fast approaching. Cairns Group Ministers were adamant that failure to live up to the Doha deadline would have serious consequences for the negotiations as a whole.
Ministers welcomed the close collaboration between Governments and the private sector in working towards an ambitious outcome from the agriculture negotiations. Ministers received statements from Cairns Group Farm Leaders, the Global Dairy Alliance and the Global Sugar Alliance, who were also meeting in Santa Cruz.
Ministers warmly thanked the Bolivian Government for hosting the 24th Cairns Group meeting and looked forward to meeting again before the WTO Ministerial meeting takes place in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003.