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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5625

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (10:49 AM) —I take the opportunity, with some regret at this estimates process, to lament the loss of ambition and progress in Australia’s trade negotiations. I do not say that to be particularly critical of the Minister for Trade; I am mindful of the tough job that he has. I think that if he were to look back at some of the rhetoric that he used, when he was shadow minister, in the years leading up to his becoming trade minister he would probably be a little embarrassed about some of the promises and commitments he made at that time and would realise that this is a hard slog and that it is not easy to make progress.

What I find disappointing is not only have we not made much progress but also that our ambition seems to have faded—the desire to have only high-quality trade agreements and the desire to ensure that we actually make progress with each of these agreements, that they are all fair deals for Australia and that we do not just give things away in order to get a signature on a bottom line but actually achieve benefits for our own country as well. In particular, we need to focus on the Doha Round. The now Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said in July 2006 that Doha was ‘as dead as a dodo’. I do not think that approach was endorsed by the shadow trade minister at the time, but nonetheless that is what the leader said. I know the shadow trade minister has reason to object to the way in which the Prime Minister has behaved while he has been in prime ministerial office, but this is another example of how his rhetoric changed after he was elected.

In reality, the Doha Round is sliding away. The statements being made after each meeting are less encouraging than the ones made previously. In July 2008 the trade minister said that the negotiations were going well and that 80 per cent of all the issues were resolved—although, frankly, I think most of those were resolved because countries like Australia backed down and backed away from their ambition. In 2009 there was discussion about ‘important progress’ and ‘injection of momentum’. He said that the chief negotiators would ‘intensify their efforts next week in Geneva’ and then went on to say that everyone now recognises we are in the ‘end game’ of the Doha Round. That was in 2009, and now we are in 2010, and if there was to be a statement now it would be even less encouraging, because, frankly, none of those optimistic and glowing comments have been a reflection of the reality.

That is very disappointing. The progress that has been made has been made because we back away from important principles. I am very concerned that the ambition that surrounded the launch of the Doha Round during Mark Vaile’s long and successful term as trade minister seems to have been watered down and that there is now a desperation about getting an agreement no matter how little benefit there is in it. Frankly, a bad agreement is not better than no agreement at all. I thought it was interesting that an article in the Australian Farm Institute’s Farm Policy Journal a few months ago made the comment that what was accepted for agriculture by this government through Doha—what is on the table at the present time—could be worse than having no deal at all.

I suggest that deals need to deliver real benefits. The Doha Round, unfortunately, is slipping away. It is slipping away not just because of the inability of Australia to pursue its agenda but also because the US has clearly lost interest and Europe and other countries are not giving it the momentum it needs. Especially, if the US is not prepared to meaningfully engage, then all these discussions will have serious problems. In particular, the new US administration seems to be focused much more on a fortress America policy and to be unwilling to make the kinds of concessions that will be necessary to get this sort of thing across the line. I believe it is important for the government to maintain the momentum, the spirit and the ambition of achieving worthwhile trade agreements and not just participate in a rush to the bottom to try to get signatures on comparatively worthless agreements just so that it can be said that a deal has been done. (Time expired)