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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4785


Senator FERRIS (7:38 PM) —As we read today about the effects of the devastating drought on Australian primary producers, I think it is worth remembering that we are still focused on the future of our agricultural producers in a world context and in trying to gain for them freer and fairer access to world trade. In that context, I would like to acknowledge the recent push by the Cairns Group to increase global market access for our agricultural products. It reflects our government's highest priority in trade, and that is to make our trade opportunities for primary producers more open and more fair.

The Cairns Group was formed in 1985. I am very proud to say that I was a member of the staff of the National Farmers Federation at the time the then Minister for Trade, the Hon. John Dawkins, established the Cairns Group, which now comprises 18 member countries, led by Australia. Australia has always played a lead role in the Cairns Group and our current Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, is chair of the Cairns Group at present. We are always arguing through that group for fairer and freer access for our agricultural products. We are currently campaigning through the Cairns Group for substantial improvements in our agricultural trading circumstances, with the objective of achieving significant improvements in market access across the board and moving the negotiations in the World Trade Organisation forward as quickly and as productively as possible.

The latest Cairns Group proposal would deliver very substantial new market access opportunities not only for all Australian farmers but for farmers around the world. We want to address the high tariffs, the tariff escalation and the tariff peaks in agriculture. We also want to allow increased access to world markets for efficient farmers, including those in developing countries who rely heavily on agriculture for their economic development. In that context, Senator Troeth and I will be representing Australia at the International Conference of Women in Agriculture, which takes place during the parliamentary break, in Madrid, Spain, and we look forward to progressing these issues in that world context.

The World Bank's global economic prospects report estimates that abolishing all trade barriers could boost global income by $US2.8 trillion and lift 320 million people out of poverty around the world. It is the old trade versus aid argument: if we increase the amount of trade access for Third World countries, we are often able to assist them more effectively than if we continue to just give them aid. The benefit to developing countries from trade liberalisation would be eight times all of the debt relief granted by the developed world. Some people claim that this is not politically realistic. I prefer to believe that it is realistic and I remain optimistic that it can be delivered—it is a man-made problem and can therefore be undone and changed. The Cairns Group wants to cut developed country agricultural support, which is currently at $US380 billion. Developed country aid to developing countries is only at $US43 billion. The developed countries spend 8.8 times more on subsidising inefficient agricultural practices than they do on foreign aid.

On 7 September 2002 the Cairns Group launched its new negotiating proposal at the World Trade Organisation. This market proposal reaffirms Australia and the Cairns Group's leading role in efforts to reform global trade rules for agriculture. It will add momentum to the World Trade Organisation's agricultural negotiations, it will put pressure on those countries that have not engaged seriously in the negotiations and it will open up major new export opportunities for Australian meat, sugar, dairy and cotton producers. This government will continue to work hard in the World Trade Organisation to further the interests of Australia's farmers.

The Cairns Group proposal focuses on three key areas: tariffs, tariff quotas and tariff quota red tape or administration. The Cairns Group proposal would cut all developed country's tariffs to 25 per cent or lower, expand all tariff quotas substantially to provide improved export opportunities for Australian farming families, improve tariff quota administration to allow better utilisation of market access opportunities thereby reducing hidden barriers to trade, and allow more flexibility for developing countries. The Cairns Group proposal would see tariff rate quotas increased by four or five times their existing levels over the next four or five years. As well, the Cairns Group has tabled a proposal for the elimination of export subsidies and is working to table an ambitious proposal on domestic support measures. At this point, I acknowledge the work of Lyall Howard of the National Farmers Federation in developing some of these proposals. Mr Howard has been a tireless advocate for Australian farmers in their fight for freer and fairer market access for their products.

In conclusion, the success of the World Trade Organisation's Doha Development Round hinges on the round's ability to deliver substantial improvements for agricultural market access. The Cairns Group proposal adds a new dynamic to the World Trade Organisation negotiations and gives Australian farmers some glimmer of hope in a time of immense struggle and devastating drought. In the 21st century, the world deserves nothing less than to extend to agriculture the same treatment that has successfully been extended to trade in manufactured goods around the world.