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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15917

Dr Emerson asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice, on 13 May 2003:

(1) What discussions have taken place to date between Australian and United States authorities on Australia's quarantine system in the context of negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two countries.

(2) What discussions on Australia's quarantine system occurred between the Australian and United States Government in the period from 1 January 2001 to 14 November 2002

(3) What issues were discussed in these talks.

(4) What changes were made to the quarantine system since 1 January 2001 prior to the beginning of current round of negotiations on the proposed Australia-US free trade agreement in March this year.

(5) Did Australian and US Government officials reach an agreement to address the US Government's quarantine concerns in September last year; if so, (a) what were the US Government's concerns, and (b) what did the Australian Government agree to do to address them.

(6) Did Australia agree to change its quarantine system in any way in response to US Government concerns; if so, (a) what changes were agreed to, and (b) when were these changes implemented or when will they be implemented.

Mr Vaile (Minister for Trade) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows :

(1) The first round of negotiations with the United States on a free trade agreement was held in Canberra from 17 - 21 March 2003 and covered a wide range of issues across 17 separate negotiating groups. This included a group dealing with agriculture and quarantine. The focus of the discussions was on laying the groundwork for the negotiations, defining questions of scope and clarifying framework issues. The United States and Australia agree that the science-based nature of quarantine is not an issue for negotiation in an FTA. In the FTA, both sides will reinforce and reiterate their commitment to a science-based approach to quarantine supported by the WTO SPS Agreement. There was no discussion on quarantine and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues during the second round of FTA negotiations held in Hawaii from 19-23 May 2003.

(2) Australia and the United States regularly have discussions on a range of agricultural issues relevant to our bilateral relationship, of which technical market access issues are routinely a part. Following a meeting of senior officials to discuss agriculture in July 2002, the US and Australia agreed to develop an improved, closer working relationship on SPS issues by instituting a framework for regular meetings. The purpose of these meetings is to exchange information about our respective SPS regimes and processes and also provide progress reports on each others' specific market access requests. These discussions began in mid-2002 and are part of an ongoing process outside the FTA negotiations.

(3) In these discussions, Australia and the United States regularly raise technical issues related to access to each other's markets for a range of plant and animal products.

(4) No changes were made to Australia's quarantine system during this period. Australia's quarantine system is transparent and science-based and in line with the rules of the WTO SPS Agreement. Neither Australia nor the US intends to change its quarantine system as a result of the FTA discussions.

(5) We agreed to hold regular consultations on process matters. See the answer to question (2).

(6) There has been no agreement to change Australia's quarantine system as a result of US concerns.