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The Cairns Group

43rd Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting


Statement of the 43rd Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

25 February 2024


  1. We, the Ministers of the Cairns Group1, met in Abu Dhabi on 25 February 2024 at a time of critical challenges to the global trading system.  We are pleased to welcome Ukraine as a new member of the Cairns Group, noting Ukraine’s shared commitment to open, fair, market oriented agricultural trading system.  

  1. The agriculture negotiations are at a critical juncture. Agriculture remains the most important unfinished business of the WTO and should be at the heart of ongoing reform efforts and advanced at MC13.  It is recognised globally that agricultural trade reform is fundamental to the health of the multilateral trading system and future rule-making.  It is also critical to the achievement of global goals on development, livelihoods, food security, equality and economic, social and environmental sustainability.

  1. The Cairns Group is committed to achieving greater fairness and a levelling of the playing field in agriculture through ambitious and comprehensive agriculture trade reform in line with Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).

  1. We reaffirm our commitment to making progress in all three pillars of the AoA – domestic support, market access and export competition – with a view to ensuring a balanced and progressive reform process.  It is regrettable that the WTO has failed to reach any substantive reform outcome in agriculture since the decision at the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in 2015 to eliminate agricultural export subsidies.  Maintenance of the status quo or a reversal of commitments achieved since the Uruguay Round would be unacceptable and inconsistent with the Article 20 mandate.

  1. The WTO’s Thirteenth Ministerial Conference (MC13) must deliver a concrete and equitable outcome in agriculture.

  1. We should agree to modalities by MC14 on a holistic agricultural trade reform package consistent with Article 20 and that addresses all Ministerial mandates.  We should also take stock of recent work and submissions by WTO Members and agree to continue to build on this work towards MC14.

  1. Levels of domestic support are at record highs and are growing.  Notified domestic support levels reached USD610 billion in 2019 – around four times global aid levels.  Research2 estimates that the majority of global agricultural support to producers is considered price distorting or harmful to the environment.  Distortionary support is concentrated on just a few products by just a few WTO Members.  This is to the detriment of smaller and unsubsidised producers.  We call for an outcome that caps and reduces by at least half overall trade-and production-distorting domestic support entitlements within 10 years, on the basis of proportionality, where the Members with the biggest entitlements and potential to distort markets make the biggest contributions.  This reform should address product-specific concentrations of support, including in relation to cotton.

  1. A holistic approach to agricultural trade reform will need to include market access.  Trade in agricultural products continues to be particularly affected by tariffs and other barriers.  We call on Members to step up efforts to achieve substantial improvements in market access for agricultural products, to create more equitable conditions for international trade across the board.

  1. We underline our concern with the restrictive implications of recent unilateral trade-related environmental measures undertaken by some WTO Members.  We call on Members to ensure that such measures are not designed for protectionist purposes, and do not amount to unjustified trade restrictions or impose excessive compliance requirements and costs.

  1. We recognise the need to continue negotiations on export competition to ensure that the historic elimination of export subsidies is not undermined or circumvented.  We will step up efforts to progress unfinished business in this pillar, including on export credits, export financing, export state-trading enterprises and international food aid.

  2. We reaffirm our view that development lies at the heart of the multilateral trading system and that agricultural trade reform is essential to support the individual economic development needs of developing Members.

  1. We are pleased to announce the appointment of a Cairns Group Vice Chair. The appointment will be on an annual rotation basis, with Thailand serving as the first appointee to this position.

  2. We reiterate our commitment to engage with industry and farm associations including Cairns Group Farm Leaders to ensure the voices of all farmers are incorporated into the agricultural reform process.  We reaffirm our commitment to working with other WTO Members and Groups to progress agricultural trade reform.  We are open to balanced and pragmatic solutions that seek to integrate the key elements of different proposals to progressively and substantially reduce support and protection.

  1. We call for all Members to grasp this important opportunity in coming days at MC13 to deliver the foundations for meaningful agricultural trade reform.  The stakes are high and will continue to increase.  Agricultural trade reform is a priority the world – and the WTO – simply cannot afford any longer to neglect.


[1] Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand, Ukraine, Uruguay and Viet Nam.  

[2] Including price incentive policies and fiscal subsidies.  Source: UNDP/UNEP/FAO, 2021; A multi-billion dollar opportunity: repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems.

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