Relocating Middle Powers: Australia and Canada in a Changing World Order

By Andrew F. Cooper; Richard A. Higgott et al. | Go to book overview

Conclusions

This chapter has sought to show that, despite the heterogeneity of the Cairns Group's membership, the Group's aims and policy approach to the Uruguay Round demonstrated a surprising degree of homogeneity and solidarity. This was because areas of potential conflict in the Group's various interests (services and intellectual property, for example) were kept firmly in a secondary position behind the goal of agricultural reform. The Group did not overplay its hand or try to push negotiating parties beyond what their own domestic political constraints would permit. Moreover, by keeping its aims sharply focused on the single issue of agricultural reform, the Group avoided ideological conflict and the dissipation of its energies in the pursuit of wider non-tangible goals.

The Group's approach was firmly anchored in the understanding that agricultural reform is not simply a technical or market-specific process but a political process and, as Henry Nau notes, primarily a domestic political process at that. 75 While informal and commodity groups have existed before in GATT, these tended to be largely comprised of officials concerned with activities related to a specific commodity, such as sugar. The Cairns Group went considerably beyond this approach. Its efforts to reform agricultural trade were underpinned by a greater recourse to the ministerial decisionmaking process than was the case in previous rounds as a way of overcoming the potential for bureaucratic inertia in the negotiating process. Australian negotiators were especially aware of the degree to which political action at various stages -- but especially in the pre-negotiation phase at Punta del Este 76 -- would be needed to break technical and other deadlocks. Secondary states, acting individually, would have little role in the negotiations. The formation of the Cairns Group was designed to overcome this disadvantage.

The preparation and research underpinning the Group's negotiating position were important to its performance. In particular, we have argued that the role of Australia (as intellectual leader, provider of technical support, and political convener of the Group) was instrumental in its success. Australia demonstrated considerable innovation in refining the identification and measurement of illiberality in the trading system. At the same time, we are not unaware of the long history of protection in Australia, especially of the manufacturing sector. Indeed, it is this history that makes the intellectual sea change in Australia in the 1980s so very interesting. 77 In addition, the role of the Australian multilateral trade bureaucracy in providing supporting documentation and argumentation for the Cairns Group in the Uruguay Round was

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