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Cairns Group Statement to the Open-Ended Session of Agriculture Negotiations

The Cairns Group welcomes the revised draft agriculture text.  Its release marks an important juncture in the negotiations and a key step towards concluding modalities.

This revision represents the first comprehensive text covering all issues and captures some important areas of convergence in the past few months.  In other areas, gaps have been filled providing a basis for further negotiation. 

It is clear that, notwithstanding the progress captured, there is much work ahead if we are to fulfill the mandate of substantial reform in all three pillars.  This is particularly so in market access, where modalities must provide clarity on precisely how access will be opened across the breadth of the pillar, and how the distortions created by highly protected products will be addressed.  

We welcome that the text provides a new point of departure for negotiations on the full range of developed and developing country market access issues.  However, the ranges of ambition in a number of areas are still wide apart and we must do more to find convergence.  While we welcome progress on Sensitive Products, more work is clearly required.  As the revised text clearly recognises, we will need assurances at the time of modalities on precisely what the volume of MFN quota expansion will be, in tonnage terms, should a product be declared Sensitive.  Cairns Group Members also expect the elimination of the Special Agricultural Safeguard from the beginning of the implementation period, and the removal of in-quota rates in developed country markets. 

We must deliver the fullest liberalization of tropical and alternative products on the basis of the Cairns Group list, and address tariff escalation comprehensively.  There is a need to find acceptable areas of convergence for all Members in relation to Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanism.   And a tariff cap should be reinstated to preserve the integrity of the tiered formula and address the imbalance between agricultural and industrial tariffs.  On simplification, Cairns Group Members require an approach that delivers at an early stage certainty and transparency of the impact on tariff levels.

In domestic support, we recognise the progress captured in the text.  We need to ensure that modalities provide both the clarity of commitments to be made and new rules to be reflected in the Agreement, in this and other pillars.  Disciplines must be precise, easily implemented and subject to a robust system of monitoring and surveillance – an area that requires more work across the three pillars.

We reiterate that the major subsidizers can and must do more to ensure effective cuts in Overall Trade Distorting Support (OTDS).  Product-specific limits will also need to provide genuine disciplines on recent support without top up flexibilities.  We welcome the retention of the proposals on cotton and stress the importance of fulfilling the specific mandate in this area.  There is also important work still ahead to ensure that Green Box support remains genuinely non-trade distorting.

In export competition, the text is very advanced, with fewer outstanding issues and convergence on some key disciplines in areas such as food aid and export credits.

In export credits, we welcome the removal of exceptions, a robust self-financing rule with preservation of subsidy agreement disciplines and strict application of 180 day terms.  In food aid, the revised text reflects the priority the Cairns Group proposal places on targeting non-emergency food aid to those in need.  However, we are concerned that it falls short of meeting the mandate to eliminate commercial displacement.  On export subsidies, the Cairns Group proposal for joint reductions in volume and value commitments remains the logical approach to ensuring that ‘a substantial part’ of subsidy reductions is realised by the mid point.

The Cairns Group looks forward to further discussion in the agriculture negotiating group in order to build greater convergence and narrow outstanding gaps in key areas.   We emphasise our full support to the process and urge all Members to work together to conclude modalities that fulfill our expectations of comprehensive reform of agricultural markets.

Last Updated: 24 February 2016

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