WHEN Europe pleads it has 9-million-to-10-million farmers to protect, the Cairns Group smiles wryly. This alliance of 14 countries pushing for a conclusion of world trade talks represents 130 million farmers. They are mostly from small countries, individually without much global clout. But collectively, they are trying to keep the US and Europe on track in coming to agreement on agricultural trade reform.
Ministers of the Cairns Group will meet in Bangkok June 26-27 to establish ways in which to get across their concerns about the Uruguay Round of talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
The meeting was carefully timed before the leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries hold a summit meeting in Tokyo July 7-9, with the intent of sending a strong message: It's time to wrap things up.
The Cairns Group is made up of representatives from: Australia (the chair), New Zealand, Fiji, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Canada, Hungary, and Indonesia.
What these countries have in common is an interest in agricultural trade reform. They have a higher proportion of their gross domestic product, their exports, and their employment in agriculture than the industrialized countries. And they cannot compete in world markets until agricultural subsidies and other trade barriers come down.
The Cairns Group has established itself as a "third force" in the world trade negotiations.
Its main objective is to scale back agricultural protectionism and subsidy practices that give more developed countries an edge in world markets. For example, Australia wants US subsidies on wheat, sugar, and powdered milk exports lifted, because they hurt Australian farmers.
The group supports a three-pronged attack on distortion in agricultural trade: increased access to markets, reduction in export subsidies, and a requirement to limit internal subsidies to farmers that encourage overproduction.