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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 828


Senator FORSHAW —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. I understand that while he was in Latin America Senator McMullan chaired a meeting of the Cairns Group of agricultural fair trading nations. I ask the minister: now that the Uruguay Round has been successfully concluded, what will be the main tasks ahead for the group in building on the process of reform initiated by the round?


Senator McMULLAN —I thank Senator Forshaw for his question, which I understand is his first, and I welcome him to the Senate. It was my privilege to chair a meeting of the Cairns Group during the course of my recent visit to Latin America. It was unanimously regarded as a highly successful meeting. I think interested senators would be delighted to know that that meeting has reaffirmed the important continuing role of the Cairns Group in encouraging and facilitating fair trade in agriculture, because that is very important to Australia.

  The meeting clearly established a sense of direction and purpose for the group in the post-round environment to which Senator Forshaw was referring. It signalled very much to the world that the Cairns Group is still in business as an effective voice promoting fair trade in agriculture. I think senators would also be pleased to know that, following some speculation, there was unanimous support for Australia continuing to chair the Cairns Group. We will be continuing to do that, and we welcome the support of those other member countries. We are grateful for it.

  The key thing that came out of the meeting was a clear and unanimous message to the major agricultural markets and those with policies which distort those agricultural markets that the Cairns Group will insist on and exert all the pressure it can for full and prompt implementation of Uruguay Round commitments and will be vigilant in the resistance to any backsliding or circumvention of obligations. That is a proper issue for us to be concerned about. There is a serious possibility that people will seek to do that. Some people are already applying their minds to ways in which they can avoid the legitimate obligations into which they have entered, minimal as they are from a Cairns Group and Australian government point of view.

  The Cairns Group—and Australia as a member of it—will work to ensure that the world trade organisation, and in particular its agricultural committee, is effective in its monitoring role and in promoting the environment for further agricultural trade reform. We are trying to make it very clear that, welcome as the small amount of progress which we made in the Uruguay Round relative to the overall size of the task is, it was a very important first step. Those who were involved should be congratulated. But it is only the first step down a long road of agricultural trade reform.

  A significant change in the operation of the Cairns Group is that there has been agreed a wide-ranging work program, research, coordination and other such activities conducted not only by Australia but by many of the other member countries which have taken on particular obligations for research and information. Australia will continue to play its coordinating function in its capacity as chair of the Cairns Group. That broad participation by members on a range of issues has, I think, made very clear the level of continuing commitment.

  As part of this particular exercise the Cairns Group will be taking a close interest in policy development in those countries which have a significant impact on world agricultural trade—the United States, the European union, Japan, et cetera—to seek and to encourage policies in those countries which reduce distortions to both production and trade. It is very important that we maintain the momentum for reform that was established in the Uruguay Round. This Cairns Group meeting made a significant contribution to maintaining that momentum and, I think, advanced Australia's interests and the interests of agricultural fair traders around the world.