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Agriculture Ministers Seek Progress On Doha Round

by Leroy Baker,, New York

11 June 2009

Agriculture ministers from around the globe have met in Indonesia, to discuss how the stalled Doha Round of world trade negotiations can be jump-started.

The Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting nations, said in a communiqué issued after its 33rd ministerial meeting in Bali that the Doha Round is as important now as it ever was given the global economic context, and that agriculture lies “at the heart” of efforts to complete the negotiations.

“Concluding the negotiations would deliver a much needed contribution to economic recovery and demonstrate the benefits of the multilateral trading system. This outcome is within our grasp, and we are determined to make it happen,” the communiqué said.

“The Cairns Group recognises the good progress that has been made in the agriculture negotiations. We must build on that work, based on the draft modalities text, to secure an outcome that meets the Cairns Group’s long-term objective of a fair and market oriented agricultural trading system through substantial improvements in market access; substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support; and the long overdue elimination of all forms of export subsidies as agreed by ministers,” the group’s communiqué added.

The Doha Round of talks began back in 2001. It aims to cut trade-distorting agriculture subsidies, curb fishery subsidies, open trade in services, facilitate customs operations, open trade in clean technology, adjust anti-dumping rules, and offer duty-free and quota-free access to the exports of the world’s poorest countries among other goals. The talks collapsed last July, with ministers attending trade talks in Geneva failing in their efforts to agree on blueprint agreements in agriculture and industrial products.

The Cairns Group represents the interests of both developed and developing agricultural exporting countries with a commitment to achieving free trade in agriculture. Its membership includes: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.

The group negotiated successfully for the inclusion of new agricultural trade rules to reform global agricultural trade during the 1986-94 Uruguay Round negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In the lead up to and in the early phase of the current WTO Doha Round of negotiations, the group tabled negotiating proposals setting out blueprints for ambitious reforms across the three main areas of the agriculture negotiations: market access, domestic support and export subsidies.

Also in attendance at the Bali meeting was United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who described his discussions with various ministers as “a very productive three days.”

"This week in Bali, I have reiterated the US commitment to a successful conclusion to the Doha round,” he announced in a statement.

"To the United States, a successful conclusion will mean an ambitious and balanced result with new market openings for all, and significant contributions to global economic recovery and long-term economic growth and development.”

Kirk suggested that “new ideas” are needed to get the Doha talks moving again.

“It will take some creativity, and quiet and informal work by ministers and by senior officials,” he stated. "The United States will continue to work with Cairns Group members and with all of our partners in the World Trade Organization to explore solutions, and ultimately to reach consensus on how to put the Doha negotiations on a path to success."

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