Nineteen leading agricultural exporting nations, including Australia, Brazil and South Africa, kicked off talks in Bali on Sunday aimed at pushing forward troubled world trade negotiations.
As well as seeking to move forward the stalled Doha trade round, the Cairns Group of nations accounting for more than 25 percent of the world's agricultural exports is also expected to take aim at U.S. and European dairy export subsidies.
Despite the global economic crisis sharpening pressures for protectionism, there are also hopes that political conditions for a world trade deal are improving. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is due to attend the three-day meeting in the resort of Bali, as well as officials from the European Union and India.
According to a draft document obtained by Reuters, the talks would include ''How can the Cairns Group best exert influence to reinvigorate the negotiations and finish the (Doha) Round.'' The protection of farmers from price swings or market implosions, such as subsidies for agricultural products, has emerged as one of the trickiest topics in the Doha round.
The United States in May moved to subsidise some of its dairy exports, saying it was forced to respond to new European subsidies that have made it hard to compete in global markets depressed by the economic downturn. Top dairy exporters Australia and New Zealand have led protests against the moves.
Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu also said the Bali meeting would discuss obstacles preventing the 153 World Trade Organisation members from wrapping up the Doha round.
''The Cairns Group wants to eliminate huge agricultural subsidies and export subsidies for agricultural products by developed countries which have distorted global trade and hurt poor farmers in many developing countries,'' Pangestu told reporters late on Friday.
Trade ministers came close in July 2008 to a deal on the Doha talks, launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001 to help poor countries prosper through trade.
But that meeting collapsed over differences between Washington and big emerging countries such as India and China over a proposed safeguard to help farmers in poor countries withstand surges in imports.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy is due to be in Bali, but a more critical factor to moving trade talks forward could be an expected meeting on the sidelines of the talks between U.S.
trade representative Kirk and India's new trade minister, Anand Sharma.
The new Obama administration is conducting a review of U.S.
trade policy including efforts to reach a deal on Doha and some of America's trading partners have been impressed by Kirk's conciliatory style, though they are still waiting to see the substance.
The Cairns Group consists 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.