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Farmers for Free Trade: The Cairns Group Farm Leaders

The Cairns Group Farm Leaders took a leadership role, demanding action at the World Trade Organization MC11 in Buenos Aires this week.

On Monday 11th December 2017 at 10.45pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time, NFF President, Fiona Simson, took her seat in Buenos Aires next to Australian Trade Minister, The Hon. Steven Ciobo MP and Argentine Minister for Agro-industry, Dr Luis Miguel Etchevehere. She was there to put the case for reform to international trading rules on behalf of farmers from agricultural exporting countries. Beside her was Argentine farmer President Daniel Pelegrina of Sociedad Rural Argentina.

Both farmer Presidents were there to put the case for reform of agricultural trade directly to 19 Ministers from Cairns Group countries - a grouping of agricultural exporting nations that came together in 1986 with the goal of freeing up world markets for agricultural products through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Despite the strong efforts of the Cairns Group, agricultural trade reform has been put in the too hard basket for too long.

Fiona Simson and Daniel Pelegrina are part of the Cairns Group Farm Leaders (CGFL) - a group of farm representative organisations from Cairns Group countries. Together, they outlined what the farm sector needs from its Governments and all WTO member nations just days before the Ministerial meeting. 

In Buenos Aires this week, CGFL demanded that their Government reaffirm their support of the WTO including its rules and its processes. However, the pillar of agricultural trade rules that needs the most attention is domestic support. Domestic support are payments and programmes that provide assistance to farmers in a way that distorts world markets and hurts farmers in other countries by driving down world prices - this particularly hurts subsistence farmers in least developed countries.    

...poverty reduction goals and global food security is imperiled by a lack of reform - without change, farmers will not be able to adequately feed and clothe a projected 11 billion people by 2100
Fiona Simson, President, NFF and Daniel Pelegrina, President, Sociedad Rural Argentina

To date, domestic support is hardly disciplined by the WTO as existing rules basically lock in current levels of support - the playing field is far from fair. Support is concentrated in particular products and so distorts some commodities more than others. So what could be done to fix this? First of all, a broad cap on the amount spent on overall trade-distorting domestic support would be needed.

CGFL are also strong advocates of gaining better market access for agricultural goods – ideally to the same degree as manufactured goods. To this end, CGFL demanded that Governments outline a pathway to genuine market access including removal of tariffs and quotas. It is also crucial that regulations around food safety and animal and plant health are based on sound science, so they don't act as de facto trade barriers.

Armed with these proposals from their CGFL allies, Fiona Simson and Daniel Pelegrina told the Ministers what trade reforms mean to farmers on the ground. They also pointed out that poverty reduction goals and global food security is imperiled by a lack of reform - without change, farmers will not be able to adequately feed and clothe a projected 11 billion people by 2100.

One by one, Ministers spoke of their fundamental support for the global rules-based trading system and specifically the concept of a cap on overall trade-distorting domestic support. They discussed the challenges of attaining commercially meaningful market access and committed to pushing for an ambitious agenda after the MC11 meeting. Argentinian Minister Etchevehere summed the Cairns Group Ministers meeting up with "...just get out there and do it!"  The CGFL couldn't agree more.

Scott Kompo-Harms is the NFF General Manager, Trade and Economics. Scott accompanied NFF President Fiona Simson to Buenos Aires to attend the meetings.

To see the full CGFL statement, click here.

Banner image: Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment

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