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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr McEWEN (MURRAY, VICTORIA) - I could not give an unqualified assurance that Australian interests wm not be impaired by ihe European common market proposals. Ail L can say is that of all the information wc have been able to glean up to the present time - and we have been very assiduous in endeavouring to glean all possible information - I am not yet aware, nor is the Government in any sense aware, of any specific proposal that would impair Australia's trading opportunities. However, we are watching the situation very closely indeed. It has to be understood that what I might describe as the inner group, spoken of as the Messina powers - Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg - have already decided to establish progressively. over I think a twelve-year period, i free trade area within their own boundaries. Their freedom to do that is of :curse within their own control, subject only o their contractual obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, ind there could conceivably be a conflict between their own proposals and their international obligations in that arena. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade organization is to meet during this month, ind a senior official of the Department of Trade will be in attendance. The purpose >f the meeting is, as we understand it up o the present, not so much to challenge proposals, but to be sure that there is a complete explanation of proposals so thai he governments concerned may examine hat situation. Whether the United Kingdom joins the common market subsequently s, of course, a matter for its own decision. Jut the United Kingdom, I remind the House, is not a completely free agent. It ms not only its obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade but also its obligations to Australia under he new agreement which replaces the Ottawa Agreement. That preserves for

Australia the preferential position that we had for our commodities in the United Kingdom and indeed adds on a contractual basis, some of the non-contractual preferences we were enjoying. The United Kingdom has taken the stand that it will not commit itself to an arrangement, thai would prejudice trade between the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth countries in any broad sense. I do noi think that any of us would wish to obstruct what was, in total, a beneficial arrangement because of some minute ' detail that might not be completely acceptable. I believe that that is a reasonable attitude. I think that it is an attitude which our Government would subscribe to. But I have no reason to believe that, up to the present time, our major interests are threatened under this proposal. It is suggested that food items will be completely excluded from the arrangement which the United Kingdom may join.

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