8:35 AM Oct 19, 1993
WEAKENING BLAIR HOUSE WILL JEOPARDISE OUTCOMEGeneva 18 October (TWN) -- The 14-member Cairns group of agricultural exporting nations expressed alarm Monday over the French and EC efforts to further weaken the agriculture texts of the Uruguay Round, by seeking modifications of the Blair House accord, and warned that such efforts would "seriously jeopardise an overall acceptable outcome on agriculture". While members of the group were opposed to any changes in the Blair House compromise of November 1992 between the US and EC, that would weaken the disciplines on subsidised agricultural exports, sought by France, they stopped short of any threat to veto or reject any such compromise or conclusion of the Round on that basis. While some of the members, whose main exports are of agricultural products, others were also clearly looking at the overall situation and reserving their own positions in terms of the overall balance. The 14-member group, of whom 13 are participants in the negotiations (Fiji is not), as the Australian Trade Minister Peter Cook explained at a news conference consulted and coordinated only on the agricultural issues on the Round and not the entire gamut. The group had met for two days, and at the end held a press conference on Monday afternoon to release their joint communique, where Cook and several of his colleagues scorned and ridiculed France over its stance on agriculture and French politicians like Jacques Chirac trying to suggest they were fighting the battle of Third World farmers. At a joint press conference, Cook also disagreed with the view that the communique was 'weak' and implied a likely further weakening of positions if the US and EC reached a compromise. "It is a very strong communique and makes out a clear and powerful position," he asserted. Cook, and some of his colleagues, also sought to refer to the recently published World Bank/OECD study about the gains to the world economy from a successful conclusion of the Round, and the overall benefits to the OECD countries and France, but appeared to back away when they were asked to comment on the same study's findings about the negative effects of the Round on several of the developing countries, including sub-Saharan Africa and Indonesia. The study had said that the partial agricultural reform in the DFA text would result in welfare losses for sub-Saharan Africa and also some low-income countries like Indonesia (a 0.2 percent loss). Cook sought to focus on the overall conclusions of the study about the gains to the world income, and that developing countries, even those who might lose immediately, were backing the conclusion of the Round. Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Supachi Panitchpakdi, stressed that the subsidisation of agriculture and exports by the OECD countries was harming the developing countries and that whatever the immediate effects overall and in the long run the developing countries would benefit. He also suggested that the problems of the African countries should be resolved by agrarian reforms and the World Bank provide finance for it. In their communique, the Cairns group said: * the 15 December deadline is real deadline and cannot be extended. * Cairns group fully supports efforts of GATT D.G., and would work positively and constructively within the time- frame to achieve a genuinely trade liberalising outcome. * ironically those (among the large industrial countries) who would gain most also appear most reluctant to make the final effort. Narrow interest groups in these countries must not be allowed to frustrate a successful conclusion. * Uruguay Round will bring major benefits to the world economy and must be concluded on the basis of a multilaterally agreed, balanced global package. The Cairns group rejects the notion that agriculture could be set aside to conclude interim or partial agreements. * negotiations on agriculture could not be completed without full involvement of the Cairns Group and all other parties concerned and agriculture was not simply a "trans-Atlantic affair". * successful completion of agricultural negotiations would require negotiation of commitments to expand market access, rapid and final acceptance of the DFA provisions to liberalise agriculture trade, including quantity and budgetary-based reductions in export subsidies and commitments on trade-distorting domestic support measures. * endorses the negotiated agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, and this should form a substantial part of the package and should not reopened. The Group's communique also said that immediate task in reaching a successful conclusion of the Round is to secure a substantial market access package expanding trading opportunities for all participants. The single most important impediment in completing the market access package in agriculture, the group said, was in the continuing differences on elimination of all non-tariff barriers to trade and their replacement by tariffs. This must be resolved quickly, and in a manner ensuring there were no exceptions and there would be a correct implementation of comprehensive tariffication. The communique, in a footnote, noted however the Canadian position that import measures consistent with the disciplines of Art XI of the GATT (quantitative restrictions on imports to buttress domestic supply management) should not be subject to tariffication so long as they be accompanied by meaningful access commitments. The Canadian Special envoy, William McKnight MP, justified this by pointing to the Canadian offer of minimum imports in dairy products which he contrasted with that of the US. The agricultural package, the Cairns group communique said, must provide improved access for all products in all markets. Offers and outcomes that have the effect of simply maintaining highly restrictive access arrangements or reducing current market access for particular products were "clearly not acceptable". In the reference to the Blair House text, the communique said: "The DFA remains the basis for concluding the negotiations. The Cairns Group is not party to the Blair House accord, containing proposals which would dilute the DFA. The Group can only take a final position on the Blair House accord in appropriate multilateral negotiations when it has been tabled and all of the market access outcomes are known and can thus be evaluated. "Notwithstanding this, it is with alarm that we note the further efforts to weaken the DFA disciplines on agriculture. Clearly such efforts seriously jeopardise an overall acceptable outcome on agriculture." The communique concluded: "Now is the time for the biggest possible coalition for success to be formed. The world has waited too long and economic growth and employment has suffered because of delays in the Round. It is a time for positive, constructive action to achieve economic growth" Cook said that while all major trading partners were responsible for the current deadlock, the EC had a larger share of the blame. As to a ministerial meeting to give the negotiations a push, Cook that while he had an open mind, the resources to mount such a meeting in Geneva could be better spent in concluding the negotiations. He did not see the forthcoming APEC meeting in Seattle as an effort to create a far Eastern trading bloc, but rather to build a wider trading and investment area.