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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 398

Senator BURNS —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. Access for Australian beef to international markets is of vital importance to this country. The future prosperity of Australia's beef producers, and rural communities generally, depends on Australia's capacity to develop export opportunities. Can the minister advise the Senate of any developments in respect of Australia's access to the Canadian beef market in particular?

Senator McMULLAN —I thank Senator Burns for his continuing interest in concerns about the rural industry, which has been reflected by his committee activity which interested senators will be aware of. As some senators who take an intelligent interest in this matter would know—which some might think would limit the numbers on the other side—the government has been concerned for some time about access for Australian beef to the Canadian market, and we are still negotiating with Canada for better market access arrangements for Australian beef resulting from the Uruguay Round.

  It is a matter of great disappointment to us that this matter between Australia and Canada remains outstanding. It is an item of important export interest to us. It was a market worth $197 million in 1993. However, following my discussions on this issue in Marrakech with the Canadian trade minister, Mr MacLaren, I am pleased to be able to advise the Senate that he advised me over the weekend that, in respect of access for the current year, Canada has announced an increase in the 1994 free-of-surtax quota of 13,000 tonnes for boneless beef imports. I know the government welcomes the decision. I would hope all senators do. I feel sure it will also be welcomed by the Australian beef industry.

  This decision has been presented by the Canadian government as a one-off increase, but it does go some way to addressing the concerns we had raised for some time about the justification for the restrictions imposed in 1993 and 1994. I expect the decision will also be welcomed by Canadian end users and processors alike, given the considerable uncertainty and market instability caused by the current restrictions and their flow-on effects, particularly on the competitiveness of Canadian downstream processors. Like them, we will be looking at how this will affect the market situation for the coming months.

  This is a very welcome initiative. It does not resolve all our outstanding beef arguments with Canada. There are outstanding issues. The government remains concerned that they have not all been addressed. We will continue in our efforts to negotiate constructively with the Canadian government to resolve those outstanding matters. I repeat: the government welcomes the decision to increase the free-of-surtax boneless beef quota by 13,000 tonnes. I am sure the Australian beef industry will welcome it, as I know my colleague the minister for primary industry does.