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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1872


Senator WATSON(3.19) —The Government's efforts as outlined by the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins) in the paper to keep Australian initiatives for world agricultural trade reform on the agenda at the international meetings are commendable. However, I believe that the optimistic tone of the document is somewhat overstated given the current widespread support for protectionist policies in many countries. Consensus at international meetings on the value of multilateral negotiations to ease trade problems is relatively easily achieved. The fact is that, when it comes down to the realities and practicalities of trade relationships, this agreement soon dissipates and is replaced by hard-headed self-interest. Agriculture is almost universally protected on a vast scale. Let us look at three of the major trading blocs: Over $20 billion this year through the European Community budget; the United States of America, $21 billion; and Japan $12 billion, a third of the value of Japanese agricultural produce. Many countries are merely paying lip-service to the need for multinational negotiations as pressing domestic issues take precedence over the international situation, however critical that might be.

Let us look at the United States. We are told that the export enhancement program, worth $1 billion per year, is here to stay. This highly protectionist omnibus trades Bill appears likely to pass into law soon. The mood of the Democrat-dominated US Congress is visibly protectionist. On 9 April this year proposals to introduce restrictions on the importation of Australian products-principally beef, lamb, veal, wool and wool products-were discussed and views prejudicial to Australian interests were clearly expressed. The restriction on imports of Australian lamb and wool products will be seen by the quote from the US Congress: `Not as a protectionist measure, but as a safeguard for the very security of our nation'. The congressman went on to argue that Australia and New Zealand's unclear commitment to ANZUS denied us the privilege of free trade with the United States. He stated:

I could not justify placing obstacles to free trade in the way of allied countries that have committed themselves to defending the freedom of the American marketplace. However, in the case of New Zealand, and to a lesser extent Australia, that commitment has not been clear.

That is a quote from the Congress. Although the accuracy of the report of Australia's commitment to ANZUS I believe is questionable, the sentiment that has given rise to it is very clear. Domestic issues have and will continue to strongly influence decisions on trade.

The Minister for Trade was reported last month as saying that there was little prospect of Australia's agricultural trade problems with the United States being eased before the next presidential election in 1988. Perhaps it is time to adopt a more direct approach to countering such protectionist feeling. I would like to make the following suggestion to the Senate: That it should appoint representatives in Washington to lobby relevant groups and put forward the Australian point of view before these ideas are enshrined in legislation. As many will know, the National Farmers Federation has already taken steps in this direction. While the representations at international meetings have their value and will no doubt contribute in the long run to a reduction of protectionist activity, there is little hard evidence that they are actually succeeding at present. Australian farmers cannot afford to wait until the traditionally slow international decision-making process is able to gain some practical results. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.