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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11837

Mr SECKER (2:36 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House what rural and regional families can expect as a result of the informal meeting of WTO trade ministers taking place in Tokyo this weekend?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Barker for his question and acknowledge the serious interest he takes in our efforts to try to improve the global trading circumstance for Australia's farmers. What do we want to see? We want to see a fairer global trading regime for Australia's farmers for the products that we sell in the global marketplace. As stated yesterday when we released our white paper on foreign affairs and trade, the WTO remains the government's No. 1 trade objective. The meeting this weekend in Tokyo is the second in what will be a series of informal mini ministerial meetings to continue to energise the agenda as far as the Doha Round is concerned, a round that needs a positive outcome on agriculture to be successful. There is no doubt about that, and there is broad agreement on that fact. We will certainly be pursuing that at the table this weekend, both as Australians, individually, and as the chair of the Cairns Group. Since I mention the Cairns Group and the white paper, it was interesting to look at the transcript of an interview that was done yesterday, following the government's release of the white paper, with the member for Griffith—who is leaving the chamber—and the member for Rankin in response to that white paper. It was an excellent paper that was developed, and it has been quite well received by the broader community and the commentators in the media.

The SPEAKER —Member for Rankin!

Mr VAILE —It was also interesting to note the unusual circumstance that the member for Griffith did less talking than the member for Rankin. But it was interesting to read the transcript. The member for Rankin was asked a question about our policy perspective on competitive liberalisation—that is, pursuing multilateral objectives and bilateral objectives at the same time—and the journalist was saying that the Labor Party's attitude to this was flawed. The member for Rankin responded:

I mean, how can Mark Vaile look the other members of the Cairns Group in the eye and say that on the one hand I want to lead you as a group as a powerful third force in negotiations in the global trade negotiations but at the same time do a preferential deal with the United States?

Very simply, the answer is that it is very easy, because all the members of the Cairns Group agree with Australia on this issue. In case the member for Rankin has not noticed—

The SPEAKER —Order! Throughout this week I have reminded the member for Rankin of the obligations he has. He believes that if he simply avoids looking at me those obligations are excused. The member for Rankin will observe standing order 55.

Mr VAILE —The point that I was about to make, and obviously it is one that the member for Rankin does not want to hear, is that the members of the Cairns Group agree with this perspective. As a group, we have been pursuing for many years a fairer deal for the farmers of the world who are locked out of the markets of the world, and we have been frustrated by that. The Labor Party should put their hands up and plead guilty to signing away the interests of Australian farmers in the Uruguay Round, which they did. The members of the Cairns Group—

Mr VAILE —It is a fact.

The SPEAKER —Member for Fraser!

Dr Emerson —He's given up, Mr Speaker; let's move on.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Rankin! The member for Fraser will withdraw that interjection.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, if I have made an unparliamentary interjection I withdraw it.

Mr VAILE —The point that the member for Rankin was raising in his media interview following the release of the white paper yesterday was that members of the Cairns Group do not agree with Australia in terms of our perspective on our trade policy at the moment. The fact is that they do because they are pursuing similar objectives. Chile has just concluded a free trade agreement with the United States of America, and South Africa has a preferential agreement with the European Union. Indonesia and Malaysia are members of the AFTA agreement, the free trade agreement of South-East Asia, and all the Latin American countries are currently negotiating the free trade agreement of the Americas with America. So they are not mutually exclusive. As indicated in their questions yesterday, the journalists completely understand the objectives that the government are pursuing to give every opportunity for Australian farmers and Australian exporters to do better in the global markets. We will continue to do that. Unambiguously we will argue that case. I will argue that case in Tokyo this weekend. The European Union and the Japanese have not been very ambitious at all. They are still locked away back at the Uruguay Round. But we are not; we are prepared to be ambitious. We will lead the Cairns Group in that argument. We will argue the case on behalf of Australian farmers in the national interest as well as in their interest, and we will seek support from the Labor Party to do that as well.