What is the Cairns Group?

Malcolm Tatum

Originally formed in the city of Cairns in the northern Queensland area of Australia, the Cairns group is an international special interest group that is focused on the process of agricultural-produce exporting. Over nineteen countries currently are members of the Cairns Group, with the membership including such diverse countries as Canada, Uruguay, and South Africa. Generally, it is understood that the Cairns group came together as a means of voicing opposition to the inequalities that were perceived to be an integral part of produce exporting practices during the middle to late 20th century.

South Africa is a member of the Cairns Group.
South Africa is a member of the Cairns Group.

The inaugural meeting for the Cairns group was called and initiated by the government of Australia. Part of the idea behind the meeting was to build on the work already being done by several South East Asian countries to address common produce export practices that seemed to favor a few select countries over others. Held in August of 1986, the Cairns group became a functional entity, and also picked up several additional countries. Over time, the organization expanded to Africa, South America, and North America.

A number of countries that are not official members of the Cairns Group often send observers to gatherings of the group. Organizations with similar aims also often find support from the Cairns Group, with temporary alliances being formed in order to address a specific agricultural issue in a given country or area of the world. Generally, the Cairns Group supports any efforts to eliminate export subsidies and work for equitable market access for exporting agricultural goods, less any favoritism for any one country or group of countries.

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Over the years, the Cairns Group has emerged as an organization that is able to work with both individual countries as well as with the World Trade Organization on issues that impact the agricultural well-being of various countries, along with export practices regarding produce. According to some sources, the Cairns Group is credited with the inclusion of agriculture on the agenda for the Uruguay Round, and the eventual ratification of the Agreement on Agriculture.

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