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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15556

Mr St CLAIR (2:37 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister inform the House about the government's policy regarding the sale of Australian grain in the international marketplace? Has the government had any success recently in securing markets for these exports?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for New England for his question. He represents a very significant grain growing industry and I am sure, like many members on this side of the House, has been concerned about threats to the export of Australian wheat and barley to China. China is one of our most important export markets for wheat and barley, worth about $700 million a year. Two years ago the Chinese published a list of three pests and diseases which were no longer permitted to be present in any exports of wheat to China. They therefore threatened to close off Australian exports because of their concern that these pests and diseases existed in Australia. We have been negotiating with the Chinese on this matter consistently since that time, and I am very pleased to report to the House that last Friday an agreement was reached with the Chinese.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service were able to convince the Chinese authorities, on the basis of sound science, about certain facts concerning these three particular pests and diseases. They convinced them that the fungus—which is present in Australia and, I might add, in most of the wheat growing industries of the world—is not of economic consequence in this country and is therefore not significant as a pest of wheat and barley. They were also are able to convince the Chinese, on the basis of sound science, that the striped mosaic virus had been eradicated from barley in Australia and that the nematode which had been causing them concern had never even been recorded in this country. This is an example of sound science winning the day. This follows on from the announcement I made last week about access to the Korean market for the first time for Australian fruit, an example where again science won through and was able to demonstrate that these products could be safely exported without any threat of disease or pest incursion to the importing country. This is a major breakthrough for the Australian wheat and barley industry, coming at a particularly difficult time for the industry. This is a vital market, potentially worth $700 million—or even more. We now have an advantage in exporting our cereals to China because they have accepted that Australia is free of any risk to them through our exports of these commodities.