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Friday, 3 April 1987
Page: 1826

Senator FOREMAN —I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Trade to the article on the front page of the Australian Financial Review of 30 March entitled `Trade tensions rise as US, UK move against Japan'. In that article, both the United Kingdom and the United States of America were considering, or had taken, punitive steps against Japan because of its trading policies. Can the Minister state what reactions the Australian Government has to these developments and what impact such steps could have for Australia?

Senator BUTTON —I think it is too early to comment on the impact of what has happened in the United States stance. I know that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry has arranged a series of negotiations with the Americans regarding the announcement made by the United States Government. I do not think those talks have been resolved at this stage. However, the Government is highly critical of the protectionist regime which is increasingly adopted by the United States Government, confronted as it is with an enormous deficit and, it appears, an incapacity to take steps to restructure many of its industries, which are clearly uncompetitive with Japan.

This kind of deterioration in trade relations between two countries which are our major trading partners is a very serious matter. However, in Australia's case our major concern centres on coal and beef because they are our largest export items to Japan. We received assurances in January from the Japanese Government about coal and those assurances were repeated to Senator Evans, I believe, during his recent visit to Tokyo when he was told that trade was not being influenced by non-commercial factors. Also, in January, we received assurances that Japan had no intention of settling trade disputes with third countries at the expense of Australia. We place a very high value on these assurances and I personally have had communications with Japanese Ministers since January which confirm them.

On the question of beef, we have made strong representations to the Japanese Government about developments in the market which have favoured imports from the United States. We will seek to have those matters redressed during the post-1988 beef access negotiations which begin later this year. I also draw the honourable senator's attention to recent reports about increases in beef consumption in Japan and the incapacity of the domestic industry to meet those increases in demand. So there can be some optimism about those negotiations. To return to the point of the question, I do not think that we have quite seen the end of the negotiations about the United States Government's announcements, particularly on electronic components, but we will await with interest and concern the position taken by the United States.