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Cancun clangour: Pampered farmers are cannon fodder

Cancun (Mexico), Sept. 10: The Cairns Group and the Group of 21 developing nations that includes India and China appear to have dug in for the big fight against the collective might of the United States and the European Union at the fifth ministerial meeting of trade ministers that formally begins on Wednesday.

The big issue is agriculture trade reforms that has become the focal issue of all discussions in the lead up to the Cancun Round and could make or mar the success of the trade negotiations here.

“The international community faces a moment of choice — whether it will accept fundamental reforms in agriculture or continue to embrace a system that perpetuates gross injustice to the farmers of the world,” said Mark Vaile, Australia’s trade minister and deputy leader of the Cairns Group farm leaders.

“At Doha (the fourth ministerial meeting that was held in November 2001 in the Qatari capital), we agreed on an ambitious timetable for agriculture reform. It is now time to turn those commitments into concrete actions. If we don’t, we will lose what I believe is the last opportunity to reform global agriculture trade,’ Vaile told reporters after a meeting of the Cairns Group leaders.

The Cairns Group is a coalition of 17 agricultural exporting countries who account for one-third of the world’s agricultural exports. Its members include Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.

For the first time, there’s a real possibility of pushing the Big Two in world trade — the US and EU — “to the very edge”, said Vaile.

This had become a possibility because of what Vaile described as the “stunning development” in the run up to the Cancun talks that brought together India, China and Brazil — three of the largest agricultural producers in the developing world.

Equally stunning, however, has been the narrowing of positions between the EU and the US and the near-blockbuster deal that they worked out just weeks before the Cancun round which has been thin on specifics but thick on commitment.

On Monday, commerce and industry minister Arun Jaitley, who is leading the Indian delegation to the trade talks, bluntly told both the US and EU that they would have to introduce agriculture reforms first before they could expect the developing nations to pare farm tariffs.

Vaile today signalled that the Cairns Group and G-21 — which had developed a coalition of interests on farm trade issues — would mount the offensive against the EU and the US.

He was confident that the grand alliance would hold and not wilt under the threats or blandishments from two of the world’s biggest trade players.

“We won’t cave in. We will push them to the very edge,” he said, dismissing all talk about a crack in the Cairns Group itself.

Many of the Cairns Group members are part of the G-21 and have aggressively supported the farm trade draft prepared by India, China, South Africa and Brazil that calls for elimination of trade-distorting domestic support measures in the US and EU, export subsidies and greater market access to the rich nations.

Vaile said there was no quibble among them on how to proceed with reform in the three pillars of the Agreement on Agriculture — market access, domestic support and export competition. “We are together on this,” he said.

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