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Cairns Farmers talk tough on agriculture

29 November 1999

Seated before you today are the presidents, or their representatives, of the national farm organisations in the fifteen Cairns Group countries. We represent millions of farmers in South America, Australasia, Canada, South Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

We have come to Seattle because farmers throughout the world are facing deep economic and social pressure. Agricultural trade rules allowing discriminatory practices and distorted world markets have led to low commodity prices undermining profitability and investment in our agricultural industries.

The non-fulfillment of the rules and spirit of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture by the rich developed countries is a form of economic imperialism, which condemns developing countries to poverty and underdevelopment.

Export subsidies and high domestic support also penalise efficient food producers amongst our developed country members.

As Cairns Group Farm Leaders we are deeply committed to fair and equitable trade rules under the WTO, but we are frustrated that the goals in the last round have not been achieved.

Under the current rules there are loopholes that permit countries to use trade-distorting subsidies and unjustifiable disparities in market access which distort the proper functioning of world markets.

The dramatic levels of support in countries such as the European Union, Japan, Korea and the United States has placed an unfair economic burden on our members. The economic cost to consumers and taxpayers of this protection is well understood, but there is a lack of political will to change the domestic policies that lie at the heart of this problem.

The Cairns Group is widely known as the 'third force' in the WTO agriculture negotiations. We represent around one-fifth of the world's agricultural exports and we have the same number of people as the combined populations of the United States and the European Union. We are bound by a desire to see a better deal created for agricultural fair traders.

We have called this press conference today to tell you that the Cairns Group alliance is stronger and deeper than ever before, and that we as farmers, will be working alongside our governments throughout the Seattle Round of agriculture negotiations in the WTO.

Cairns Group Farm Leaders will not endorse a Seattle Ministerial Mandate that does not provide scope for the total elimination of export subsidies, substantial reductions in domestic support and vastly improved market access for fair-trading agricultural producers.

Our specific demands have been articulated in a communiqué, which we are distributing today. They include

  • vastly improved market access through substantial tariff reductions on products without tariff-rate-quotas as well as improvements in the administration of tariff-quotas;
  • substantial reductions in amber support limits, elimination of the blue box and an overall cap on all domestic supports with appropriate differential treatment for developing countries;
  • tightening green box rules to ensure that only non trade-distorting programs are included in the green box;
  • the total elimination of export subsidies and introducing effective rules governing the use of export credits, food aid and export promotion programs to prevent these programs being used as disguised export subsidies;
  • the SPS Agreement should not be open to review in the forthcoming WTO negotiations;
  • environmental and labor issues should be discussed in other fora and on the basis of the UN Agreements on the Environment and ILO regulations.

Unless there are real and meaningful outcomes on agriculture from this Seattle WTO meeting, we will consider recommending to our Ministers to walk away from the talks until a progressive agenda with commitment is ensured.

Finally, we demand that agricultural trade reform leads to more open, transparent and non-subsidised systems so that trade in agriculture is treated no differently to trade in other goods.

Next Media Releas:
14/9/2003 USA and Cairns Group Farmers call for a big result

Previous Media Releas:
1/9/1999 An important message from Cairns Group Farmers on the need for liberalisation of world agricultural trade