Speech by Alan Ferguson, Australian Delegation to the United Nations on behalf of the Cairns Group at the UN General Assembly 55 - New York, 26 October 2000
I have the honor to speak today on behalf of the Cairns Group of 18 agricultural fair trading countries, namely Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, Uruguay.
The Cairns Group continues to be deeply concerned with the fact that world agricultural and agri-food markets remain highly distorted by export subsidies, huge levels of domestic support and severely restricted access to markets, including tariffs, sanitary and phyto-sanitary and other non-tariff measures. This situation persists despite important achievements in developing international disciplines on international trade in agriculture through the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations.
That total support and protection for farmers in developed countries now exceeds US$360 billion - a return to the damaging levels of the mid 1980s - underlines the urgency of concerted international action to implement the reform commitment embodied in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.
The Cairns Group would like to re-state its commitment to establish a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system. Fundamental reform of world agricultural and agri-food markets is necessary to ensure sustained improvements in the well being of all the world's people. This is both a political and moral responsibility.
In view of the increasing distortions to world agricultural markets, the Cairns Group welcomes the start made to the mandated WTO agriculture negotiations. But beginning the negotiations is not enough. The WTO needs to work expeditiously towards a conclusion.
The Cairns Group has participated actively in the current mandated WTO negotiations, by submitting negotiating proposals which, so far, cover the elimination of export subsidies and major reductions leading to the elimination of trade distorting domestic subsidies. We are preparing a proposal to improve agricultural market access which we aim to table in November 2000. The Cairns Group wishes to encourage other WTO members who have not done so to submit reform proposals as soon as possible and to begin preparing for the second stage of the negotiations from March 2001.
Achieving real and early reform in agriculture is essential for the future of the multilateral trading system. Such reform will also reduce the potential for trade disputes and avoid unnecessary strains on the WTO.
The Cairns Group would like to welcome the significant role played by developing countries in the WTO agriculture negotiations and the growing recognition that achieving agricultural reform is essential for eradicating poverty. Nothing is more important to countries which rely heavily on their agricultural sectors than achieving open, fairer and more market-oriented international agri-food and fibre markets. While development assistance must remain an essential element in helping developing countries realise their potential, at their recent meeting in Banff, Canada, Cairns Group Ministers stressed that aid should not be a substitute for trade. Improved market access and agricultural reform by developed countries are essential to unlock development.
The agriculture negotiations must also deliver concrete and operational special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries. Reform and special and differential treatment are both central elements in ensuring that developing countries have the necessary means to address crucial rural development and food security objectives through the negotiations. The Cairns Group would also like to put on record its recognition of the importance of the Marrakesh Decision on least developed and net food-importing developing countries and our concern to ensure this decision is made more effective.
The current negotiations on agriculture in the WTO offer a profound opportunity for WTO members to carry out the commitment they made fifteen years ago, at the start of the Uruguay Round, to achieve fundamental reform of world trade in agriculture based on substantial progressive reductions in support and protection. The Cairns Group asks all WTO members to reaffirm their commitment to this task in order to realise the tangible economic benefits, particularly to developing countries.