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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 5366

Apple Imports


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:46): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, Senator Conroy. On 1 February 2011 the Australian and New Zealand delegations to the WTO jointly advised the World Trade Organisation that Australia would be in a position to issue new permits for the importation of apples from New Zealand on 17 August 2011. This announcement was well prior to the completion of the import risk analysis Australia was required to undertake. In fact it was before the Biosecurity Services Group had conducted the visit to New Zealand upon which Biosecurity Australia had purported to base its recent risk analysis. So on what basis was this agreement made and this date chosen given the import risk analysis had not been completed in February? Why shouldn't Australian apple growers and pear growers conclude that from no later than 1 February the outcome of the risk analysis had been fixed so that New Zealand apples were coming to Australia?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:47): I thank Senator Xenophon for his question. Under WTO rules Australia had an obligation to implement the outcomes of the apples dispute either immediately or within a reasonable period of time. The Australian government decided to implement the outcomes by a scientific review of the existing 2006 import risk analysis. The reasonable period of time can be set either by agreement between the parties or by an independent arbiter. The New Zealand and Australian authorities negotiated a period of eight months to complete this review, putting Australia in a position to issue import permits by 17 August 2011. If it had been left to an arbiter it is likely that Australia would have been given less time to implement the findings.


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:48): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In fact it is 6½ months, not eight months, Minister. Will the minister agree that, if Australia had not issued that note on 1 February 2011, it would now not be seen to be in breach of any WTO obligations and that it was actually the government's action of nominating a date for an import that now puts Australia in a precarious position with the WTO?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:48): No. It is likely that if we had not negotiated that period with New Zealand we would have had less time to implement the outcomes of the dispute.


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:49): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade AgreeĀ­ment covers almost all trans-Tasman trade in goods, including agricultural products, and that under ANZCERTA all goods that originate in Australia may be imported to New Zealand with no tariffs? Therefore, would any decision by the WTO in fact not affect New Zealand's obligation to maintain the duty-free flow of goods from Australia under ANZCERTA?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:49): The government does not agree with this statement. There is nothing in the treaty that prevents New Zealand from imposing retaliatory tariffs consistent with New Zealand's rights under the WTO. The WTO would not consider the provisions of the treaty in determining whether New Zealand could retaliate. It would only look at the parties' rights under the WTO agreement.