MEDIA RELEASE

DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND TRADE, Australia

D10

2 February 1998

SOUTH AFRICA JOINS THE CAIRNS GROUP OF AGRICULTURAL COUNTRIES

The Senior Spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Nick Warner, today announced South Africa's membership to the Cairns Group.

"We congratulate South Africa on the changes it has made to bring its domestic environment into line with Cairns Group objectives for international agricultural trade. We look forward to welcoming South Africa formally at the 12th Cairns Group Ministerial meeting in Sydney from 1-3 April this year," Mr Warner said.

"South Africa is a major agricultural exporting country and its participation in the Cairns Group will add to its diversity and strengthen its capacity to work for a fairer international agricultural trading system.

"South Africa's membership underlines the continuing dynamism of the group and its appeal to agricultural free traders in all regions. The Cairns Group first expanded its membership in 1997, admitting Paraguay, and we look forward to South Africa providing a model for other nations of southern Africa," he said.

South Africa is the first African country to join the Cairns Group. The leadership role that South Africa plays in southern Africa will strengthen the capacity of the Cairns Group to explain and advance its objectives for reform in international agricultural trade.

In making his announcement, Mr Warner also advised of Hungary's recent decision to withdraw from the Cairns Group, having received agreement to commence negotiations to accede to the European Union (EU), as one of six priority applicants.

"The Cairns Group understands the wider political and security reasons for Hungary's desire to join the EU," Mr Warner said.

"Hungary has made significant strides in agricultural liberalisation since the break-up of the former Eastern bloc and will now be in a position to contribute to further liberalisation of the EU's common agricultural policy. Significant reform of the EU's highly interventionist and trade-distorting agricultural policies will be important to the continued efforts of the Cairns Group to liberalise world trade in agriculture." he said.

The Cairns Group has a key role to play over the next two years to ensure that agriculture negotiations are well prepared and launched by the end of 1999. The April meeting in Sydney will be the first time Ministers have met in Australia since their inaugural meeting in Cairns in 1986. It will be a critical meeting for the group as it develops objectives for the next round of multilateral negotiations on agriculture in 1999, and considers strategies to advance our interests in the World Trade Organisation prior to the commencement of the negotiations.

The Cairns Group was formed by Australia in 1986 and consists of 15 fair trading agricultural producing countries -Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay. These countries account for around 20 per cent of world agricultural exports. Together they make up a critical force for the reform of world agricultural trade.

CANBERRA