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An important message from Cairns Group Farmers on the need for liberalisation of world agricultural trade

1 September 1999

Farmer representatives of the Cairns Group, which is comprised of 15 fair trading agricultural exporting countries, met in Buenos Aires Argentina today to discuss the acute and persistent problem of protectionism in world agriculture.

Farm leaders called on members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle in December to adopt an ambitious negotiating agenda that will establish fair and equitable rules to bring about an early end to trade-distorting protectionism and discrimination in world trade in food and agriculture. The next round must be concluded within a three-year time frame.

Farm leaders noted that the last round of multilateral trade negotiations, the Uruguay Round, brought agriculture under the discipline of WTO rules for the first time. Farmers remain deeply concerned, however, that rich countries continue to use domestic subsidies, minimized access and export subsidies to deny legitimate trade opportunities to both developed and developing countries that have a comparative advantage in agricultural production. It is time to deliver truly global liberalization of farm trade.

For too long the "agriculture is special" argument has been used by rich countries as a justification to maintain high levels of subsidies and protection for their agricultural sectors.

Cairns Group farm leaders appealed to their fellow farmers around the world to support policies that lead to all countries - whether rich or poor, weak or strong - being treated equally and to subject agriculture to open, fair and undistorted competition.

Farm leaders noted that despite the billions of dollars transferred to agriculture through protectionist policies very little of that money actually reaches the family farm. Both protected and unprotected farmers are subject to the same pressures of low prices, urban drift and declining standards of living. This is the evidence of policy failure on a massive scale.

The next round of trade negotiations is an historic opportunity to end the corruption of world trade in farm products and to create fair and proper functioning international commodity markets to feed an ever growing world population.

Farm leaders agree that all farmers have legitimate non-trade concerns. However, there are substantial threats to agricultural trade reform if protectionism is sanctioned as a means of achieving so-called "multifunctional" policy objectives and imposes high costs on efficient agricultural producers in developing countries.

Farm leaders call on rich countries to use targeted, transparent and direct "green box" policy measures rather than protection of farming to achieve multifunctional policy objectives such as protection of the countryside, rural amenities, rural employment and rural development. Farm leaders are strongly of the view that providing trade-distorting support for agriculture is not an appropriate mechanism to pursue these non-trade objectives.

Farmers also call for all trade distorting supports, including "blue box" policies, and export subsidies to be eliminated in the new round of negotiations.

Farm leaders in the Cairns Group countries called for the negotiations in Seattle to start on time and to be structured in such a way that other sectors do not leap-frog the difficult area of agriculture. Farmers believe that agriculture must not be traded-off against any other sectors.

Farm leaders in the less developed and developing countries in the Cairns Group expressed particular concern that the corruption of world agricultural markets is a major cause of rural poverty. They are frustrated that the application of the WTO's free trade principles has been so uneven.

The reluctance of rich countries to open their markets to the exports of developing countries on a non-discriminatory basis has imposed genuine hardship on developing countries. Farm leaders in these countries believe that trade creates a vibrant and viable agricultural sector, which is critical to the long-term development of their economies. Rich countries must accept their responsibilities towards developing countries by agreeing to meaningful reform of world agricultural trade.

Cairns Group farmers drew attention to their Communiqué released at their inaugural meeting in Sydney, Australia, in 1998. (see In addition, they called for an end to special safeguards for agriculture and a strengthening of the rules in the Agreement on Agriculture to ensure that there can be no circumvention of commitments to reduce subsidies and protection. Farmers re-confirm their demands for delivery of the 5% commitment for access to previously closed markets.

Farmer leaders also called on rich countries to prepare for an end to the peace clause as an important way of placing the agricultural sector on an equal footing with other sectors of world trade.

Next Media Releas:
29/11/1999 Cairns Farmers talk tough on agriculture

Previous Media Releas:
24/11/1998 New web site to boost cairns group pressure on WTO for liberalisation of world agricultural trade