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The Cairns Group

26th Ministerial Meeting, San Jose, Costa Rica

The twenty sixth Ministerial meeting of the Cairns Group was held in San Jose, Costa Rica, from 23-25 February 2004.  WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi, United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Derbez and Cairns Group Farm Leaders participated in part of the meeting.

Ministers stressed that the fundamental reform of world agricultural trade to which WTO Members committed in the Uruguay Round and reaffirmed their commitment in Doha remains a development imperative.  Distortions in world agricultural markets continue to undermine the ability of many developing countries’ agricultural sectors to contribute meaningfully to sustained economic development and poverty alleviation. The elimination of barriers and distortions in agriculture can play a major role in economic transformation and the promotion of social and political stability in developing countries.  Ministers underlined therefore the urgency of concluding the reform process as soon as possible.     

World leaders, including most recently UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are calling for the elimination of the agricultural subsidies that cause these distortions because of their negative impact on development.  However, more than two years after the launch of the Doha Round, the richest WTO Members have not yet shown any signals that they will remove these distortions.  Ministers called on Europe, the U.S. and Japan, which have a special responsibility to show leadership, to translate into action their commitment to implement faithfully the mandate.  Without deeper developed country reform, developing countries will not be able to realise the full competitiveness of their agricultural sectors. 

The Cairns Group is fully committed to achieving substantial progress in the negotiations in 2004.  The Group is ready to work actively over the coming months with all WTO members and groups, such as the G20, to agree on a framework for negotiating modalities that is consistent with the high level of ambition of the Doha mandate.

Ministers underlined that the elimination of all forms of export subsidies on all products by a specific agreed date is a necessary condition for the success of the current negotiations. There is no need to identify a list of products on which export subsidies should be eliminated.  What is needed now is a commitment to negotiate a final date for the elimination of export subsidies on all products. 

Ministers emphasised that the Doha mandate calls for substantial reductions of trade distorting domestic subsidies.  Proposals by the major developed countries fall well short of the Doha mandate and would leave in place enormous levels of trade-distorting support.  Further movement by the major economies towards the goals set in Doha on domestic support is an indispensable element of a successful outcome in the negotiations. 

Ministers recalled the commitment in the Doha mandate to achieving substantial improvements in market access.  They reaffirmed their determination to see substantial improvements in real access for all products and in all markets.  All WTO members, with the exception of the least developed countries, must contribute to this objective.  Special flexibility must be provided to developing countries in order to take into account the particular challenges they face, such as food and livelihood security and rural development.  Ministers agreed that the concepts of special products and a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries are to be elaborated as part of the approach in the market access area.

Ministers stressed that the three pillars are closely linked and that a high and balanced level of ambition across all the pillars of the agriculture negotiations is needed to achieve the objectives set at Doha.  Ambitious cuts in domestic support and the elimination of all forms of export subsidies would also permit a more ambitious outcome on the market access pillar by developing countries.

Ministers noted that elimination of cotton subsidies is of critical interest for a number of developing and least developed countries, and stressed that effective solutions must be found in the WTO agricultural negotiations as part of an overall ambitious outcome for all products and implemented as a matter of urgency. 

In concluding, Ministers said the greatest contribution the WTO could make to development was to conclude the negotiations promptly and produce an outcome that opens international agricultural markets by substantially removing distortions in world trade.

Ministers expressed their appreciation to the Costa Rican Government for hosting the 26th Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting.

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