AFP / Google News
By Stephen Coates
June 7, 2009

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) — Ministers and officials from 19 farm exporting countries plus the United States and India have met in Indonesia to give impetus to world trade talks amid the global economic slump.

The Cairns Group meeting, which includes Australia, Brazil and Canada, is expected to call for a fresh start to the Doha Round of world trade talks and condemn rising signs of protectionism.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy are also attending the three-day meeting, which is taking place in the luxury beach resort of Nusa Dua on the island of Bali.

Kirk is scheduled to hold his first bilateral talks with India’s new trade minister, Anand Sharma, on Monday, after disagreements between the two countries over protective tariffs scuppered WTO negotiations in July.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean, who will chair the Cairns Group meeting, said the talks were an opportunity to send the new US administration a strong message about the need for open markets.

The Cairns Group has bitterly condemned a new trade war between the United States and the European Union after Washington reintroduced export subsidies for its dairy industry last month in response to similar moves by Brussels.

"This meeting will send a strong political message on the need to fight protectionism and conclude World Trade Organization negotiations," Crean said in a statement ahead of the talks.

"Now is the time for political engagement if we are going to drive the Doha Round to a successful conclusion.

"Only concluding the Doha Round can eradicate market-distorting subsidies such as dairy export subsidies that have re-emerged this year."

Washington said last month it would bring back export incentives for its dairy industry after its international market share was hit by the EU’s move to reintroduce such subsidies for European farmers.

The moves undermine WTO commitments to eliminate all export subsidies by 2013.

The Cairns Group, which accounts for more than 25 percent of world agricultural exports, advocates deep cuts to all tariffs and the total elimination of export subsidies, saying they threaten economic recovery.

The Doha Round of WTO talks, which started at the end of 2001 in the Qatari capital, aims to boost international commerce by removing trade barriers and subsidies.

But a deal has so far proved elusive as countries are reluctant to open up their markets or reduce financial support to farmers.

Disagreements — primarily between India and the United States over tariffs — collapsed the last series of negotiations between WTO ministers in July, plunging the fate of the broader Doha Round into uncertainty.

Representatives from Japan, China and the EU will also attend the Bali meeting.

The Cairns Group is comprised of Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.