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Keating must act on trade issues

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John Hewson M r n i A R ft ρ α ^ϊη Leader of the Opposition I M i L H A S L·

3 /9 2 15 J a n u a r y 1 9 9 2


The recent critical developments in international trade negotiations demand much more than the Prime Minister's apparent lack of interest and his minimal involvement to date.

A successful outcome of the current Uruguay Round of trade negotiations is the single most important foreign policy issue for Australia at the present time. It is a test of Mr Keating's capacity for national leadership which he is currently failing.

The current state of international trade negotiations is an issue on which the Prime Minister should be involved in an active and committed way. His continued failure to do so will only serve to confirm his inability to understand the international

dimensions of Australia's serious economic problems and his preoccupation with stitching up domestic political deals to the neglect of vitally important national interests.

Success in the current trade negotiations is not just essential if the GATT-based system of open international trade is to continue. Success is also vital to Australia's farmers,

manufacturers and other exporters - and thus to the Australian economy generally which will be greatly disadvantaged if the world trading system degenerates into exclusive and competing blocs.

The outcome of Monday's Geneva meeting on the Dunkel proposals, which are aimed at breaking the deadlock in the Uruguay Round negotiations, has created new uncertainties. The European Community may not have rejected the Dunkel proposals outright,

but they have created the opportunity to further reduce their scope to the E C 's own advantage.

The Dunkel package has its inadequacies, which Coalition spokesmen have highlighted over recent weeks. It certainly falls well short of what Australia and others have called for in the past in terms of winding back internal support for

agriculture and export subsidies. But there is no doubt that acceptance of the proposals is preferable to no agreement at all. They at least establish, for the first time, the mechanisms to transform international agricultural trade over the long term.

The GATT negotiations are thus very delicately poised. ...12


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President Bush appreciates the significance of what is now at stake. Following Monday's meeting in Geneva, he launched his strongest attack to date on the EC's "Iron Curtain of


Australia's national interests are certainly no less at stake. Yet, the Prime Minister has remained mute on the issue since Monday's important meeting. He either has no genuine interest in issues beyond domestic deal-making or no strategy to advance Australia's trade interests.

All we have had is Mr Kerin's inadequate and complacent line that the GATT negotiations are still "on track" and that "it would be wrong to present Europe as a stumbling block".

It is high time that the Prime Minister involved himself directly and actively on this issue in a way that reflects what is at

stake for Australia - and that he start doing so immediately.

He could make a useful start by

. making a major statement on how his Government views the

prospects for international trade in the light of the recent Geneva meeting, on what minimum outcome it expects and on how it plans to promote Australian - and wider

global trade - interests over the coming critical weeks

. writing personally to all the Heads of Government of the

countries negotiating the Uruguay Round and personally following up with the key parties in a direct way

. telling the EC Heads of Government directly of the counter­ productive effects of any further unravelling of the Dunkel proposals

. urging, in particular, the Japanese Government to assume a leadership role on this issue

. following up with President Bush after his recent visit

here to maximise American and Australian efforts to get an acceptable outcome

. convening a special meeting of the Cairns Group to settle on a strategy to maximise the prospects for EC acceptance of the Dunkel proposals

. co-ordinating strategies with other like-minded countries

. committing the Australian Government to the main elements of the "Strategy to Lift Exports", which the Coalition issued last week.