WASHINGTON - U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick will travel to Santa Cruz, Bolivia for meetings October 18-19 with ministers from the Cairns Group of agriculture exporting countries to discuss liberalizing trade in agriculture within ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations.
In late July, the United States became the first WTO member to put forward a comprehensive agricultural trade reform proposal, calling for elimination of export subsidies, cuts of $100 billion in annual allowed global trade-distorting domestic subsidies, and lowering average allowed global tariffs from 62% to 15%. Zoellick, who will lead the U.S. delegation, will be joined by J.B. Penn, Under Secretary for Farm & Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Chief Agriculture Negotiator, Ambassador Allen F. Johnson and David Hegwood, Counselor to Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman.
In addition to the Cairns Group meeting, Zoellick will meet with the President of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, as well as officials from other countries to discuss bilateral trade issues and the upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Ministerial in Quito, Ecuador on November 1.
"The United States and the Cairns Group have both presented ambitious and comprehensive proposals within global trade negotiations to eliminate export subsidies, cut global trade-distorting subsidies, and reduce agricultural trade barriers," said Zoellick. "I look forward to discussing with the Cairns Group and other guests opportunities to liberalize agricultural trade and hearing their views on how to move forward on farm trade reforms."
"The United States and Cairns Group are long standing allies for agricultural trade reform," said Penn. "Continued close cooperation and the current round of negotiations will help us achieve our objectives for substantial reform for agricultural trade."
Current global trade negotiations, launched in Doha, Qatar in November 2001 at the Fourth WTO Ministerial, call for agriculture to be an important part of the negotiations. WTO members are scheduled to establish by March 2003 the modalities, or specific details and time frames, for negotiations to continue so as to be completed by January 1, 2005, the target date for completing the Doha Development Agenda. The Cairns Group has also put forward a comprehensive proposal to reform agricultural trade.
This meeting of the Cairns Group is occurring at an important juncture in the context of the Doha negotiations. An informal WTO ministerial will take place in Sydney, Australia, November 14-15, to discuss the progress and future course of negotiations, including agriculture. WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, also scheduled to attend the Cairns meeting, has identified the importance of active engagement by WTO members. "These negotiations have begun reasonably well, but the time has arrived for concrete proposals which will advance the talks to the next stage. The deadline for these talks is 1 January 2005 and there are many intermediate negotiating deadlines between now and then. It is essential that these deadlines be met and that these talks stay on course."
Agricultural trade reforms in the WTO negotiations are also considered critical to the progress of other trade negotiations, such as the FTAA, because effective liberalization in agriculture requires a global approach that includes other major agriculture economies, like the European Union and Japan. Ten members of the Cairns Group are also participants in the FTAA negotiations.
"Liberalizing trade in agriculture holds particular promise for the developing world, most of which have a large share of their productive resources dedicated to agriculture. A more market-oriented trading system will help unleash their economic potential, resulting in not only increased agricultural exports but also ways to feed their growing populations," Zoellick said. "Unfortunately, some of the biggest agriculture producers, like Japan and Europe, have not stepped up to the plate and offered their own proposals on how to lower subsides and tariffs. The United States, the members of the Cairns Group, and other WTO members will continue to press for specific action on global talks to reform agriculture trade reform."
Over the years, the Cairns Group has an important role in trade negotiations, often sharing with the United States a desire to achieve real and significant reforms in global agricultural trade. The United States has worked closely with the Cairns Group, among other coalitions within the WTO, to develop the necessary consensus to move forward in trade negotiations. Zoellick has met Cairns Group members in Geneva on a number of occasions, and he joined Veneman at last year's Cairns Group meeting in Uruguay, an important milestone in the run-up to the Doha negotiations.
The Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries are holding their twenty-fourth ministerial meeting on October 18 - 21. The United States and other invited guests will have the opportunity to share views as WTO agriculture negotiations approach the March 31, 2003 deadline for establishing reform modalities, such as reduction formulas for tariffs and subsidies. The United States has submitted a comprehensive, balanced, and equitable approach for multilateral trade reform. While it differs in some respects with positions the Cairns Group has taken, both approaches are calling for substantial liberalization of world agricultural trade, by reducing and eventually eliminating the allowed levels of export subsidies, tariffs, and trade-distorting domestic support.
The Cairns Group member countries are: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay. The United States and other countries attend the Cairns Group meetings as special guests.
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