The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP
The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP


Australian Minister for Trade and Deputy Leader of the National Party, Mark Vaile
at Opening Ceremony of the Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting.
Punta del Este, Uruguay, 3 September 2001


Thank you very much Mr Chairman, to the President of Uruguay President Batlle, Minister Gonzalez, my ministerial colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

It's indeed an honour to be participating again this year in the 22nd Ministerial Meeting of the Cairns Group, on its 15th anniversary here in Punta del Este.

And just don't worry, we understand what is like when you're going through a drafting session and you want to get things right in the communiqué . I'm sure we will be hearing about that over the next day or so.

Ladies and gentlemen this meeting comes at a critical time. In two months we will all be at Doha to see if we can launch a new round of trade talks. Those talks would aim to set the global economy on a far higher growth path than today, and ultimately a better quality of life for billions of people - the stakes are very high.

This is a particularly symbolic meeting for the Group because we are celebrating 15 years of cooperation. This is a particularly resonant place to host this meeting, because Uruguay was the country where the seeds of the Cairns Group were laid. In April 1986, officials from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay met in Montevideo to discuss a particular agricultural subsidy problem.

I'd also like to join our invite other Ministers and, ladies and gentlemen join with me in welcoming some special guests we have at this very historic meeting here in Punta del Este, I would like to introduce - United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, and United States Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Robert and Ann thank you very much we appreciate your presence here. We also have as a guest participating in our meeting this year Kenya's Minister for Trade, Nicholas Biwott , Nicholas, thank you very much for attending as well.

Fifteen years of the Group

Well ladies and gentlemen where were we 15 years ago, at the beginning of the Uruguay Round?

Export subsidies on goods - that is, non-agricultural goods - had been banned for many years. Yet there were scarcely any restrictions on export subsidies for agriculture. Tariffs were going down on non-agricultural goods, but not in agriculture. Domestic subsidies in agriculture were growing at an unprecedented rate.

In this situation, we all realised that only a determined collective effort could defeat the exclusion of agriculture. And so the Cairns Group was born. And gathered momentum at two key meetings in 1986, just before the launch of the Uruguay Round in this very city where we are today.

The first was the meeting in Montevideo. The second was a larger meeting of countries in Pattaya, Thailand.

Participants at these two meetings came together and formally established the group in Cairns in August 1986. The Cairns Group then consisted of fourteen countries, drawn from five continents with widely differing economic standing and political systems. But they were united by one thing - a strong desire to liberalise trade in agriculture.

We were strong and united enough to get the majors to invite us to take a seat at the table.

And we have made a difference. Let me speculate that if the Cairns Group had not pushed hard on the Agreement on Agriculture

Fifty years after liberalisation of trade in other goods.

So we have made a difference. But we have a long road to travel yet. It is important that we do not lose any ground. That we continue to push this agenda forward. That we bring with us the majority of developing countries whose interests lie in this direction.

That is our task now as we meet here this week.

Developing countries

Our aims have real resonance for others. They are appealing to developing countries. The policies of some developed countries cost developing countries about $40 billion dollars a year according to the World Bank. Some countries spend more on agriculture every year than the GDP, and that's on agriculture support mechanisms, than the GDP of all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many developing countries can see through the calls by some wealthier countries to negotiate on environmental protection or the preservation of cultural landscapes.

These issues - however legitimate in themselves - should not be used as an excuse to avoid much-needed reform. I am very encouraged that developing countries see the wealthy country claims for what they are: a basis from which to continue high levels of protection, at the expense of developing countries.

Our proposals on fundamental reform of agriculture will assist developing countries more than the non-trade concerned debate ever can.

Developing countries would directly benefit from subsidy reductions. Their own subsidies to domestic farmers are too low to be affected by reduction commitments, and they don't use export subsidies. They have nothing to lose from the Cairns Group's call for substantive reductions in tariffs and domestic support, and the elimination of export subsidies.

Developing country farmers have to compete in the most highly distorted of trading sectors. The current WTO negotiations provide them with perhaps the only opportunity to correct these distortions. Increasingly, developing countries understand the stakes they have in the agriculture negotiations, and are lending their voices, as Kenya is doing, to the campaign for reform.

Objectives for the Meeting

We have some important ground to cover over the next two days.

We will discuss the strategy in the lead up to Doha and, importantly, how the Cairns Group can maximise its leverage in the negotiations to make a real difference.

We will discuss how to work with our partners from both developed and developing countries to understand how we can progress the reform agenda, both in the WTO and within other multilateral forums. Working with our allies is an important role for this Group.

We will discuss the mandated negotiations - how they have gone so far, their relationship to a new round and how we should proceed in the absence of a launch at Doha.

At Banff, the Group endorsed a range of initiatives that we could take such as technical work and ways to manage the non-trade debate. We'll be doing a stock-take of that, and looking for further ideas.

Concluding remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr President, we've come here today from all over the world because of our shared vision of fair trade in agriculture.

I believe the Group will ultimately prevail in putting our farmers, and those of developing countries, at last, alongside our manufacturers and our service industries in exporting to the world, for the world.

We've stuck together for fifteen years in the pursuit of our principal aim. We must continue to stick together, as I believe we are coming into the home straight in terms of putting agriculture where it belongs within the world trading system.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very important meeting, I'm pleased with the attendance that we have and the significance that you all place in the task at hand. I'm very grateful that our colleagues from US and from Kenya have seen fit to provide us some of their valuable time in the discussions tomorrow and we look forward to those discussions.

Mr President, we thank you for hosting this very important meeting in your country and in this beautiful city of Punta del Este.

I'd like to thank the Farm Leaders for their diligence in their work and their commitment to the task and the way they participate in conjunction with the Cairns Group of Ministers. Of course, that also sends a very strong and powerful message in terms of the commitment of our farming communities within the Cairns Group, and we thank you very much for that presentation, and it was worth waiting for.

Thank you very much.

Local Date: Tuesday, 07-Jan-2014 10:02:44 EST