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Thursday, 4 June 1987
Page: 3997


Mr CUNNINGHAM —Can the Minister for Trade inform the House to what extent the United States Administration, Congress and community at large are aware of the detrimental effects on Australia of its domestic agricultural policies?


Mr DAWKINS —I thank the honourable member for his question and indicate that over the last couple of weeks he, as leader of the joint parliamentary delegation to Washington, and I a few days later pressed Australia's case with members of Congress and the United States Administration. I commend the work of the delegation and take the opportunity to table a copy of the delegation's report. I think the important part of what we have been doing falls into two categories. One is the way in which we have been encouraging the United States to participate actively in the international movement towards reform in agricultural trade. The second is that we have pointed out to the Congress the damage which some of the measures which it is contemplating would cause, particularly to Australia. On that last point it is worth making the comment that there is now a wider appreciation within the Congress of the damaging consequences which would flow to Australia from some of its measures. I am quite confident that that will be borne in mind as the current trade Bill reaches its final form.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is some ignorance in the Congress of Australia's position. I refer to an item in a publication known as Congressional Quarterly which discusses the movement in production of grains and the slide in the United States share of the world grain market. It states:

Several countries including Canada, Australia and others in Europe and South America, have since geared up their grain production capacity by subsidising their local farmers.

Of course, Australia distinguishes itself-with a few other countries-in not subsidising its agricultural producers, particularly grain farmers. Part of our task is to correct that misinformation.

As well as working on the Congress, which we have done not only by way of the work of the delegation, my work, and that of my colleagues the Minister for Primary Industry and the Prime Minister, but also by the work of the very competent officials in our embassy in Washington, we have been working on the international front. The work of the Cairns group has had a very significant impact on the way in which the course of world events is turning out. I quote very briefly from an editorial in the United States Journal of Commerce, which is an important daily economic publication. Its leading article of 27 May, under the title `The Mighty Cairns', states:

It's about time the Cairns group of agricultural exporting nations got a little credit for the progress made on farm trade talks.

The 14 countries, who derive their name from the Australian town in which they first met, have succeeded in embarrassing both the European Community and the United States into serious negotiations on farm trade talks.

I table that very important editorial and commend it to all honourable members. The important thing about our relations with the United States Administration is that, whilst we agree with the central object of reform in agricultural trade, we have some serious disagreements about some of the means by which that reform might be achieved. The most important difference of opinion we have is on the effect and validity of having the export enhancement program, which is costing Australian farmers in excess of $1 billion a year. We fundamentally disagree with the Administration about the need for that program and believe that action should be taken immediately to scale down that program towards its early abolition. Through our joint efforts we have been able not only to push the case for reform internationally, but also to impress upon the Congress the importance of taking into account the position of Australian farmers as it devises its various pieces of legislation.