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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 891

Senator RICHARDSON —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry aware that in April this year the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation initiated court action in New York challenging a United States Government interpretation of its Meat Import Act? Can the Minister verify that the United States Government decision to apply import restrictions to voluntary restraint agreements from August 1983 cost Australia an estimated $18.5m worth of beef exports last year, and can the Minister inform the Senate of the outcome of the court case or whether there has been a satisfactory resolution to the problem?

Senator WALSH —I cannot confirm definitively whether it cost Australia $18.5m but from a quick glance at the figures I have it would seem that that is about the correct amount. As to what happened to the case, in April this year the AMLC and a couple of other processing-exporting companies filed a formal complaint in the United States Court of International Trade seeking a judgment on whether, under the Meat Import Act of 1979 and the Agricultural Act of 1956-both US Acts-the Meat Import Act minimum access floor of 1.25 billion pounds is an absolute maximum limit on aggregate United States meat imports. The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied me with a very lengthy answer, which I suppose it will be best to table. However, I do want to add a couple of things. In June of 1984 the Court of International Trade refused an injunction to prevent the United States Government from negotiating voluntary restraint agreements with supplying countries. It was found that in the negotiation of voluntary restraints the President was not constrained in any way by the 1979 Act and therefore was not precluded from negotiating voluntary restraint levels below the 1.25 billion pounds floor. However, the court did find that the action of the United States Administration had caused material injury to the Australian industry. Subsequently, the AMLC has sought clarification of the judgment to determine whether the President has the discretion to negotiate voluntary restraints to the minimum access floor level even where the trigger is below that floor. The court declined to offer judgment on this submission, considering it to be hypothetical at this time. However, it did invite the plaintiffs-that is, the AMLC and the other two exporters-to bring the matter before the court again should similar circumstances arise. If I may say so, that is reminiscent of the behaviour of the High Court of Australia on the Uebergang case. I table the rest of the answer supplied by the Minister.