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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 548

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and refers to sugar exports to the United States. Is the Minister aware of an announcement on 11 May by the US Government that it is further reducing access for sugar imports? If so, can he explain what this announcement means to Australia and also outline what action the Government is taking in response to this announcement? Further, can the Minister also say what is the present value of Australia's exports to the United States?

Senator COOK —The first part of the question was about the value of Australian sugar exports to the United States. Over the last 10 to 12 years there has been a significant reduction in the amount of sugar we have exported to the United States because of market closing procedures in the US. The Australian sugar exports to the United States in Australian dollar value terms were estimated at around $55 million last year. Overall, we have less than two per cent of the US sugar market. We are the fourth largest supplier to the US.

  In relation to the second part of the question, on 11 May at 7.20 p.m. Washington time, the US Department of Agriculture released a press statement headed `The US Department of Agriculture extends tariff rate quota for sugar'. In that it said that the US tariff rate quota for 1992-93 would apply in 1993-94, it would increase the quota level and that the US trade representative would shortly announce country by country quotas. That sounds like good news but in reality it means that, by averaging the tariff rate quota over two years, for the year 1993-94 there will be a reduction in the quota.

  While the global reduction is specified, the US trade representative will shortly announce what the country by country effect will be. If the normal calculations are applied in Australia's case, we would expect that to be a reduction of 10,000 metric tonnes for the year 1993-94. I emphasise that the usual way of calculating our share of the global quota would see a reduction of 10,000 metric tonnes, coming down from 96,786 metric tonnes to, by the usual calculation, 86,070 metric tonnes.

  This circumstance would be a significant blow to the Australian sugar industry. It would also be a further closing of access to the US market. In the current world trade situation, that is not something to be wished or supported.

  Upon receipt of this news, I notified the canegrowers association, CSR and the Queensland Government. I have advised the coalition spokesman on trade of the circumstance. Immediately after Question Time I expect to see the Democrat spokesman on trade and give him a full briefing on the matter.

  The question also asks me what else I have done. The Minister for Primary Industries and Energy and I are today sending a letter to the US Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Espy, and a copy to US trade representative Kantor. We will give a sense of the contents of that letter in a joint press release we will put out today.

  We are expressing strong government concern about this turn of events in the United States. I am foreshadowing that we will take it up in Washington on 26 and 27 May in the official talks of the US-Australia agricultural consultations. I will take it up personally in Washington on 11 June when I attend the formal trade and investment arrangement council meeting on behalf of Australia.

  Australia has a substantial trade deficit with the United States. As a parallel, it can be likened to the sort of trade deficit that the United States has with Japan. We are not seeking a balancing of trade; we are seeking reasonable access to the US market.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister's time has expired.