United Nations General Assembly

3 November 2003

Statement by the Hon. Warren Snowdon MP, Parliamentary Advisor to the Australian Delegation, on behalf of the Cairns Group

Second Committee

Item 93 (a): International Trade and Development

New York, 3 November, 2003

Check Against Delivery

Mr Chairman

I have the honour today to speak on behalf of the Cairns Group of agricultural fair trading countries, namely Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa and Uruguay.

The Cairns Group is deeply disappointed at the failure of the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference to advance the Doha Development Agenda and open the way for meaningful negotiations on urgently-needed agricultural trade reform.  In the wake of the Cancun meeting, the Cairns Group is particularly concerned at the possibility of further delays in the Doha negotiations on agriculture.  The Group is therefore encouraged by recent public statements about the need to work to re-energise the agriculture negotiations process, including by APEC Leaders in Bangkok on 21 October.

The central importance of agriculture for the welfare and economic development prospects of the world’s poorest countries and developing countries as a whole makes the future of these negotiations a vital concern to us all. 

Seventy three per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.  They struggle to survive on less than $US 2 a day, at a time when rich developed countries spend nearly $US 1 billion a day on farm support. 

Total support and protection for farmers in OECD countries amounted to $US 318 billion in 2002, more than five times the amount ($US 57 billion) those countries spent on development assistance.

As noted in a joint declaration issued by the heads of the IMF, the OECD and the World Bank shortly before the Cancun meeting,

Agriculture is of particular importance to the economic prospects of many developing countries, and reforming the current practices in global farm trade holds perhaps the most immediate scope for bettering the livelihoods of the world’s poor.  Yet, developed countries impose tariffs on agriculture that are 8 to 10 times higher than on industrial goods.  Many continue to use various forms of export subsidies that drive down world prices and take markets away from farmers in poorer countries.

The Cairns Group urges all WTO Members –especially the major developed countries –to reaffirm their commitment to the integrity ofthe Doha Development Agenda and re-engage in the negotiations without further delay.  All WTO Members will lose if we fail to grasp this critical opportunity for long-overdue agricultural reform.

The Cairns Group calls on WTO members to recall the ambitious reform mandate they agreed to at Doha and the needs of the developing countries whose concerns were highlighted at Cancun.  It urges an immediate return to the negotiating table with a view to delivering substantial outcomes in line with the Doha mandate.  That will require:

  • a date for eliminating all forms of export subsidies on all products;
  • substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support, as measured against spending by the major subsidising countries;
  • substantial improvements in market access for all products;  and
  • effectivemechanisms with respect to key elements of Special and Differential Treatment, recognising the particular needs of developing countries, including food security, rural developmentand poverty alleviation.

The Cairns Group notes that developing country agricultural policies do not lie at the heart of the current severe distortions in world agriculture markets.  The weight of the adjustment must be borne by those primarily responsible for those distortions. 

Developing countries, and not just Cairns Group developing countries, are prepared to make a contribution to this process.  However, where many of their people live on the margin of existence their capacity to absorb adjustment shocks to their domestic market should be obvious to all.  Their need for improved opportunities through a fair and market oriented agricultural trading systemshould be equally obvious.

Reforming the rules for agricultural trade is the essential pre-condition to improving the development prospects of millions of the world’s people.  Urgent action is needed to grasp this historic opportunity for reform that will allow developing countries to unlock the full potential of their agriculture sectors, improve the welfare of their peopleand provide impetus to the world economy as a whole.  An enhanced trading system will also have a positive impact on current crucial global issues.

Last Updated: 24 February 2016