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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16426


Mr KERR (3:47 PM) —As the member who was once the sole Labor member for Tasmania, representing a wide range of what I saw to be complex social responsibilities, including the rural sector, I feel quite happy to be speaking on this subject because I believe that we have to have a serious debate about trade. We have to have a serious debate about where trade fits in with our social and economic responsibilities. There is certainly a very real sense that we need to look at measures now which go beyond simply the rhetoric of free trade. That is not to say that free trade is not an essential element of any successful strategy for international economic growth, but it is not all that is required. The foundations now need to be built for an international consensus that goes to new mechanisms that will support an international consensus on fair trade. Fair trade means recognising that we need to have market openness, but we also have to have a community which is able to see that international commerce will not ignore issues such as growing inequality between nations and within nations as the consequences of unfettered and unregulated changes in wealth emerge as a result of shifts driven by trade.

We have to recognise also that there is an increasing call for the mandating of minimum labour standards and minimum social standards. Across the board we need to ensure that we do not allow there to be the erection of artificial barriers to trade through measures that go to quarantine but which are essentially structured to prevent trade occurring on a fair basis. Nonetheless, there are legitimate concerns in different parts of our community about the impact of what people see as grave risks. In my own state of Tasmania, the salmon industry have strongly and persistently put forward the view that their interests were insufficiently served by the way in which the national government advocated the protection of that state's salmon interests when it came to the possibility of diseases. Of course, the resolution that we are discussing today urges the government to continue its efforts to use sanitary and phytosanitary protocols to gain increased access for Australian agricultural and horticultural products to Korea, Taiwan and China. These are measures which I have no problems at all in supporting.

Nonetheless, I think it is crucial for us to acknowledge that no longer is it sufficient for those who advocate openness in the trading system simply to assume that they can carry the community with them without making the case that carries the majority of the community along with them and convincing them that their interests are not being ignored. Far too often, we have seen those who have come to fora such as the World Trade Organisation, which stalled with the OECD and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or negotiations such as that pretending that issues touching the whole of the international community are not important—that is, issues about equity, issues about distribution, issues about minimum standards and social and labour standards and issues about ensuring that people feel that their local interests, the protection of the cleanliness of their environment and all those things that we know citizens are concerned about are not ignored.

I am happy to speak on this motion. I certainly do not dissent from the sentiment in it, but I think it is time for us to start having much wider debate about trade. It is no longer good enough to simply say that trade is a good which the whole of the community will accept. Those of us who believe in open trade need to make a sustained intellectual case and need to start developing international institutions which are responsive democratically to people not just in this country but in all countries so that the gap between those who make the decisions and those who have decisions impacting upon them is not as large as it is now. At the moment, there is a real sense that most of us are powerless and not heeded in the decisions that are being made in international fora.