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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1531

Mr COURTICE —-My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Overseas Development. Will the Minister advise the House whether the discussions held in Europe last week between the bipartisan delegation of this Parliament and EC leaders provided any indication that the Uruguay Round agricultural negotiations will reach a successful conclusion?

Dr BLEWETT —-I thank the honourable member for his question and, of course, for being a member of the delegation which I led to five of the European Community capitals last week to protest the effects of the grain subsidies war on Australian farmers. I take the opportunity to thank all members of the delegation from both this House and the other House for participating in that delegation. I have no doubt that the delegation's efforts were worthwhile in getting the message across to the European leaders of the extent of the damage that is being done to Australian farmers by the export subsidy war between the United States and the European Community.

It became clear to us that there would be no cease-fire in the subsidies war--no minimisation of that conflict--unless the Uruguay Round agricultural negotiations were successfully concluded. I have to say to the honourable member and other members that the signals the delegation received on that point were mixed. Clearly, the Germans and the Dutch recognised the urgency of the situation and the importance of a good result to the world as a whole. Both were optimistic that a breakthrough was imminent. The delegation did not receive the same message in Paris. The French were still very resistant to any change and rather insensitive to the urgency and the universal nature of the need.

In meeting with the European commissioners in Brussels, the delegation reinforced the need for the European Community to show urgently the flexibility in order to negotiate a satisfactory outcome. The delegation pointed out quite clearly that, given the time framework, the next six weeks were critical. This was a message I repeated when I met the GATT Director-General, Arthur Dunkel, on Monday of this week in Geneva. I told Mr Dunkel that I shared his view that the next five or six weeks were a make or break time for the Round.

I indicated that we in the Cairns Group would do everything possible to bridge the gaps that remain in the negotiations. I expressed the view of Australia, and of the Cairns Group, that if significant gaps did remain then the Director-General would need to bring down a courageous paper setting out a framework agreement for the Round on a take it or leave it basis. I made it clear that Australia will not take it if the paper offers less than a substantial result on agriculture. We will not be pushed into a cosmetic, low level outcome just because time is running out.

We spelled out that for Australia and for the Cairns Group we must have a substantial outcome--one which ensures irreversible commitment to reform on internal support, on market access and on export subsidies over an acceptable period. We are ready to negotiate; we are ready to make compromises; we are ready to be flexible. But the prerequisite to any agreement is a structure which guarantees long term reform.

We should be quite clear now what the alternatives are in the next few weeks. If the European Community indicates long awaited flexibility and Mr Dunkel is able to produce a paper which all participants take as a basis for agreement, then the prospects for the Round are good. But if he is unable to produce such a paper offering a basis for consensus and participants leave rather than take his proposals, this will almost certainly mean the end of the agricultural negotiations and the Uruguay Round as a whole within the current time framework.

There is no doubt that that strategy involves high risks. But I believe now that it is the only hope of salvaging a round of critical importance not just to Australia but to the whole world.