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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 562

Senator BROWNHILL —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. Can the minister advise whether the Australian government supports the decision to locate the World Trade Organisation in Geneva and whether, in fact, it voted to do so, given the Australian government support for increased trade relations with the Asia region?

Senator McMULLAN —I was tempted to reply when Mr Fischer in one of his recent speeches made a comment similar to the point that Senator Brownhill raised. I did not think it was important enough to warrant a reply, but I am pleased to have the opportunity to do so now. Some months ago the World Trade Organisation or the GATT, the predecessor of the World Trade Organisation, invited countries to express interest in where they would like the World Trade Organisation headquarters to be. The reason Australia did not support any Asian candidates was that no Asian country expressed any interest. There were no nominations from this region. There were no countries here that said they wanted it. No countries were available for us to support, so we did not support them.

  There are two matters where there is potential for the Asia-Pacific region influence to be enhanced. The first is the attempt by Singapore to host the first ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation. We were one of the first countries—if not the first—to indicate support for Singapore in that candidature, and we continue to support it. The second is the question of candidature for the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. There is a candidate from Korea and we have indicated, firstly, that our preference is for a candidate from the Asia-Pacific region, of which there are at least two, and, secondly, that for as long as the trade minister from Korea is a potential candidate, we are happy to support him. So where there are opportunities to enhance the influence of the Asia-Pacific region within the World Trade Organisation we are taking it.

  It is no good coming along two months after the decision has been made about the location of the headquarters, when no Asian country had shown any interest in having the headquarters, and seeking to criticise the Australian government for not supporting those Asian candidatures. There were none. None wished to have the headquarters. Unless we had rung them up and conscripted them to do so, unless we had made it compulsory and said, `It's going to be in your country whether you want it or not,' there was no way in which we could give such support.

  The principle is right. We welcome the fact that Mr Fischer said that we should be seeking to enhance the role of the Asia-Pacific region in the World Trade Organisation. He has the right principle, but absolutely the wrong example to support it because there was no option available to Australia to give any such support. No such nomination existed.