Lahore Group concerned over low ambition in agriculture negotiations

   The Lahore Group met on 24 July 2007 to consider the recent modalities paper on Agriculture. The Lahore Group consists of Argentina, Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, and Uruguay set up on the side lines of the Cairns Group Ministerial level meeting at Lahore in April 2007. Its basic objective is to maintain a high level of ambition for agriculture. Since its formation, this Group has held a number of meetings to consider a joint strategy and push for high market access.

   The Lahore Group welcomed improvement in certain elements of the draft text, showed concern on the high flexibility for sensitive products and the open areas such as Special Products, SSM, Tariff Escalation, Tariff Simplification.

   Groupings for discussions are common among the 151 members of the WTO. Particularly in the current Round of negotiations groups and alliances has mushroomed. Typically, such Groups are set up by developing countries to increase their bargaining power. The highest concentration of Groups concerns agricultural issues, although other Doha Agenda items also have groups, e.g. the “Friends of Fish”, “Friends of Anti-Dumping Negotiations or FANS”, “Friends of GIs”.  In the agriculture negotiations, well over 20 coalitions have submitted proposals or negotiated with a common position.

   The G-20, a well-known agricultural issues Group set up during Cancun Ministerial Conference in 2003 has had a very influential role in the current negotiations. This Group includes Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand amongst the active members but has many others. Most of the Agriculture Chair’s text is based on input provided by the G20. Because the G20 has countries with defensive as well as offensive interest in Market Access, its proposals in this area are considered as the “middle ground”.

   One of the major policy distinctions between the G20 and the Cairns Group is that the latter is more ambitious on Market Access. The Cairns Group has been in existence for over 20 years and was set up just before the Uruguay Round began in 1986 to argue for agricultural trade liberalization. Unlike the G20, the Cairns Group includes developed as well as developing countries. Despite its diversity, the Group shares a common objective — that agriculture has to be liberalized — and the common understanding that they lack the resources to compete with larger countries in domestic and export subsidies. Pakistan joined this Group on the eve of the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting in 2005.

   Both these Groups held their Ministerial level meetings in Pakistan. The G20 met at Bhurban in September 2005 to finalize strategy for the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, while the Cairns Group met in Lahore in April 2007 to work for revival of Doha Round negotiations. Pakistan’s participation in both these Groups has been very effective.