Cairns group calls for cut in subsidies
AGRICULTURE ministers from the Cairns group of free marketeers and the US have restated their commitment to further farm support cuts, as they prepare for the next round of World Trade Organisation talks.
Meeting in Buenos Aries last weekend to thrash out final positions, the group, (which consists of 15 countries including Canada, New Zealand and Australia), said it had three objectives; to eliminate export subsidies, to reduce domestic support and to increase market access.
"Trade in agriculture remains subject to profound and costly distortions," said an official communique. "Protectionist policies have severely hampered economic growth and damaged employment. Major developed countries must practise in agriculture what they preach for other sectors."
They went on to dismiss EU suggestions that the WTO round should deal with the "multifunctional" role of agriculture – such as animal welfare issues, rural development and environmental policy. "Non-trade objectives should not be used as a smoke screen for protectionist policies."
The meeting also concluded that farm policy would be the key issue in the impending WTO round. Without a deal on agriculture, there would be no deal at all, they said.
This view was endorsed by US agriculture secretary, Dan Glickman. "The next trade round will not be a piece of cake," he said. "It will be tough and difficult. Agricultural issues will be the toughest, but I want to make it clear that agriculture is key to getting an agreement signed."
A freer world market was essential for long-term farming prosperity, he said, taking a swipe at the EU for its "extensive" use of export subsidies and its high level of support.
He made no mention of the USs use of export credits, however, and was quick to defend the emergency aid package of $7.6bn recently approved by the US senate.
"To the extent that we can, we will ensure that the aid has a minimal impact on trade." *