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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3376

Mr GAYLER —Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of the growing concern within the tobacco industry of the loss of quota of tobacco growers throughout the country, particularly in the Dimbulah and Mareeba districts? What steps have been taken by the Minister to continue the very good relationship between this Government and the tobacco industry?

Mr KERIN —I am well aware of the concern of the Australian tobacco growing industry about the loss of quota. This has been caused by a few factors. Firstly , declining amounts of tobacco are now being consumed in Australia. Secondly, in the Industries Assistance Commission's report and the recommendations that were agreed to by the past Government and this Government a discipline has been put on the tobacco industry in as much as the level of stock held by the manufacturers is to go down from 15 or 16 months to 12 or 13 months. But the most complicating thing is the fact that there is a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade binding with respect to tobacco and tobacco imports. By and large the Australian tobacco industry is fixed at 50 per cent of Australian consumption, but there is an additional 7 per cent by voluntary agreement with the manufacturers and the other countries to which the binding relates. The problem of getting the tobacco released from the binding will have to be taken up in GATT.

I recently wrote to the Minister for Trade, and I had my Department analyse how that GATT binding could be lifted. It is pretty clear that the previous Government sold out that option well and thoroughly. To try to renegotiate now through the GATT would take at least another full round of multilateral trade negotiations, a process of four or five years. So that option has been withdrawn . The other thing we can do is appeal to the manufacturers and have some discusion with them on whether they can come back on the agreement that has been put into place in respect of stock holdings. I am having a meeting with the tobacco manufacturers in the next few weeks. The honourable member for Leichhardt has taken me up to the Mareeba tableland several times. I almost live there now. I fully understand his concern. I take this opportunity to thank him for all the work he is doing on behalf of the Australian tobacco producers.