Opening Ceremony Address by the Cairns Group Chair Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile

19 October 2002

Thank you very much President Sanchez de Lozada, Minister Saavedra, Minister Liebers and Minister Virreira, to my ministerial colleagues, our special guests, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s indeed an honour to be participating again this year in the 24th Ministerial Meeting of the Cairns Group. 

I’d also like to thank our farm representatives led by Mr Antelo for his interesting remarks

Ministers, I'd like you to join me in welcoming some special guests we have with us. 

I am pleased to welcome WTO Director General Dr Supachai – who of course needs no introduction to this group.  Dr Supachai, thank you for making the Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting one of your first main engagements as Director General of the WTO, obviously a clear indication of your commitment to ensuring a good and balanced outcome to the Round.  I would like to welcome – United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick – Bob thank you for attending a second year in a row.  Your presence sends a powerful message.  Last year, it led to a successful launch.  I would also like to introduce Ugandan Minister for Tourism, Trade and Industry, Edward Rugumayo on his first occasion as a guest of the Cairns Group.  We do appreciate your presence.  And in recognition of China’s accession of the WTO, I am pleased that China’s permanent representative to the WTO, Ambassador Sun could also join us to begin what I hope will be a long and productive relationship, between this group and China.  We look forward to our discussions with each of you.

Ladies and gentlemen we have achieved a significant amount in the past twelve months.  Importantly, we have ensured that our ambitions on agriculture are clearly a part of the Doha mandate. 

We have worked hard to develop Group positions on the full set of issues on the negotiating table.  And we have managed – although it has not always been an easy process – to launch a set of proposals on agriculture explaining what it is we want.  We have now put the flesh on the bones of our ambition.  Ambitions we have been annunciating for many many years.

We have made it clear all along that there will be no outcome from a Round without an acceptable outcome on agriculture.  The question before us now is to consider how we can secure the engagement of those who would slow and weaken reform altogether.  We have seen no serious engagement thus far from the EU and Japan.  We will continue to challenge them to come forward with detailed modalities proposals and reform targets. 

Bringing other Developing Countries with us

Key to our efforts will be the capacity to convert into results the considerable sympathy and sentiment for our cause among the large number of developing countries outside of our group who also want a good result on agriculture.  One of our most important challenges now is how we might bring those countries along with us.

Developing country farmers have to compete in the most highly distorted of trading sectors.  The Doha negotiations provide them with perhaps the only opportunity to correct these distortions.  Developing countries outside the Cairns Group understand the stakes they have in agricultural negotiations, and are lending their voices, as Uganda and China are doing, to the campaign for reform.

We can agree on some basics and we need to be communicating these basic common positions to Mr Harbinson.  For instance, one common refrain should be that now is the time to move on from the failed Uruguay Round approaches to reform.  The Uruguay Round methodologies being proposed by the EU and Japan were the same ones that allowed a cut from 2 per cent tariff to a 1 per cent tariff to count as credit for a member’s average tariff cut.   They were the same methodologies that allowed vast quantities of blue box support to be double-counted in the reduction base.

We want to build as much support as possible, both among our allies and among non-traditional partners for the core reform proposals we have launched in Geneva. 

These include:

  1. The elimination of export subsidies over three years for developed countries and six years for developing countries with an immediate reduction of 50 per cent in export subsidies from the first day of implementation of a new agreement.
  2. New rules to discipline export credits, insurance and guarantee schemes and strengthened disciplines on food aid and export restrictions and taxes to prevent circumvention of export subsidy commitments.
  3. An aggressive harmonising formula to achieve deep cuts in tariffs, the curtailment of tariff peaks and the removal of tariff escalation.  Substantial increases in all tariff quota volumes, and strengthened rules to ensure that trade is not being impeded by tariff quota administration.
  4. The elimination of all trade distorting domestic support over five years for developed countries and nine years for developing countries.
  5. In addition to differential targets on reduction commitments and longer implementation timeframes, special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries that would include
  • maintaining existing marketing and transport subsidy exceptions for developing countries until the elimination and prohibition of export subsidies are completed
  • retaining existing de minimis provisions for developing countries
  • retaining existing input and investment subsidy exceptions for developing countries and
  • retaining access to existing domestic support arrangements for least developed countries.

Objectives for the Meeting

We therefore have some important ground to cover over the next two and a half days. 

We will discuss strategies in the negotiations to ensure the cairns Group objectives are incorporated in the modalities text, just as the key points from the 2001 communique were incorporated into the Doha declaration.

We are now at the sharp end of the negotiations.  We will need to consider how we engage the EU and Japan.  We will discuss how to work with our partners from both developed and developing countries.   We need to look at how we can use the media, how we continue to interact with NGOs and with other key elements in the trade policy community to ensure that our messages are being heard loud and clear.  And we will need to consider how we work with each other to achieve these goals.  

Concluding remarks 

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr President, all of us are here today because we believe in our vision for an end to the discrimination against agriculture in the world trading system.

We know it will not be an easy road ahead.  The hard work is only just beginning.  But the enormous progress this group has made since its formation in 1986 is testament to the possibility that with our continued hard work, unity and determination, that vision will become reality.

I’d also like to thank the Farm Leaders for their continued commitment to the task and the way they participate in conjunction with the Cairns Group of Ministers.  Of course, that also sends a very strong and powerful message in terms of the commitment of our farming communities within the Cairns Group.

I look forward to a successful meeting, hosted by our Bolivian colleagues.

Thank you very much.

Last Updated: 24 February 2016