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Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr McEWEN - A conference between certain sugar exporting countries and importing countries - a total of 16 countries - was held last week or the week before in Geneva. The Australian delegation was led by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. Campbell, who was the senior official at the International Sugar Conference last October. I was the leader at a conference last October in Geneva. The meeting which has just concluded was held under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. It was summoned by Dr. Prebisch, the Secretary-General of the Conference, and was the outcome of an idea canvassed in the concluding stages of the major conference at which 80 nations participated and which, I have reported to the House, failed to reach agreement. Whereas all previous international sugar conferences had concentrated on discussions of the commercial aspects of sugar the October conference concentrated largely on what might be described properly as political issues touching sugar and touching the general rights as claimed by the underdeveloped countries. It was not to a sufficient extent a commercial discussion, and the conference failed. However, it was agreed that sugar is too important an industry to be left with out some international arrangement, and it was proposed that we should have another general conference on sugar. However, to try to ensure that we would not have another conference that failed the Secretary-General was to convene it at a time when, in his judgment, it was appropriate for a conference to be held with a limited number of countries whose delegates could be expected to concentrate on the commercial aspects of an international sugar agreement and in due course advise the Secretary-General and their own governments whether in their opinion it was appropriate again to plan and convene a major conference under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

This latter conference of 16 nations was called to discuss this issue. It was not a negotiating conference. It was not a conference at any time designed to come to any conclusions by vote, but was intended merely to proffer opinions to the Secretary-General. To that extent the conference has been successful. No-one at this stage feels that we could call another major conference and be sure of success. On the other hand, in the report to me there is a strong feeling that there is no need to be pessimistic about the outcome of an eventual international sugar agreement to replace the one that has lapsed. I would expect that later in the year governments would be considering whether another major conference should be convened.

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