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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8178


Senator O'Brien asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice, on 15 October 2002:

(1) What approaches has the Minister, or any of his predecessors, had since March 1996 from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, his predecessors, or officials of his department, requesting that the Australian Minister for Trade lobby the European Union (EU) for a reduction in economic protection of EU sugar cane growers.

(2) When was each meeting held.

(3) Where was each meeting held.

(4) Who attended each meeting.

(5) What records were kept of each meeting.

(6) What approaches has the Minister, or any of his predecessors, had since March 1996 from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, his predecessors, or officials of his department, requesting that officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lobby the EU for a reduction in economic protection of EU sugar cane growers.

(7) When was each meeting held.

(8) Where was each meeting held.

(9) Who attended each meeting.

(10) What records were kept of each meeting.


Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Trade has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) to (10) It is not possible to identify all meetings in the detail requested. The Ministers for Trade, Foreign Affairs, and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries meet on a regular basis and frequently discuss agriculture trade issues, which are a high priority for the Government. The Government's approach to reform of the EU's sugar regime comprises a combination of bilateral pressure on the EU and continued pressure through the WTO.

Negotiations to liberalise trade in agriculture under the WTO offer the prospect of reducing subsidised competition and creating more open markets for agricultural products, including sugar. An econometric study by ABARE in 1999 concluded that multilateral sugar trade reform would lift world raw sugar prices by over 40 per cent, resulting in savings to US, EU and Japanese consumers of $4.8 billion annually. A multilateral coalition of sugar producers has formed to advocate reform, and WTO coalitions like the Cairns Group are arguing for reform in the current Doha round of negotiations. Given the interest of the majority of the WTO membership in agricultural trade reform, sugar trade reform is essential if global trade negotiations are to succeed.

The Australian Government approach to agricultural reform through the WTO has received the support of the domestic agricultural industry, from organisations such as Cairns Group Farm Leaders (chaired by the National Farmers Federation) and from the Global Alliance for Sugar Trade Reform and Liberalisation (chaired by Queensland Sugar Limited).

Australia is also exercising its rights under the WTO to start dispute settlement consultations with the EU over its sugar regime. The aim of taking the EU through the WTO disputes process is to force changes to the EC sugar regime to benefit Australian producers and establish additional leverage in the Doha negotiations. It is important to note that it could take up to two-three years for this dispute process to run its course and the benefits may not be readily quantifiable.