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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2911

Senator TAMBLING (5.54 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the Australian Meat and Live-stock (Quotas) Amendment Bill 1993—a bill which seeks to extend the operations of the Australian Meat and Live-stock (Quotas) Act 1990 for a further three years until 28 December 1996. Currently, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation has the power to establish quota schemes to control the export of meat and live sheep from Australia. Such quota schemes are necessary when countries impose meat quotas or other restrictions on Australia. For example, over the past three years United States `blackmail' has forced Australia to agree to restrict its exports of meat to the US or risk the imposition of quotas under the US meat import law, commonly known as MIL.

  As a result of this so-called voluntary restraint agreement, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation has imposed quotas on beef, mutton and goat meat to the United States. The US meat import law, enacted in 1964, contains a formula which determines the permitted level of imports, known as the trigger level, for each calendar year. The formula allows imports to grow in line with the overall increase in beef production. However, import controls are imposed if the US Secretary of Agriculture estimates that imports will reach trigger level. As the honourable member for Page (Mr Harry Woods) pointed out in the other place:

The US prefers to negotiate voluntary restraints with supplier countries rather than impose import quotas.

If we were not to comply with this voluntary restriction, Australia could lose about 10 per cent, or about $110 million worth, of exports to the United States.

  Earlier this year the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics completed a study for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which found:

In recent times the efficacy of the price stabilisation capacity of the MIL has been eroded by the sharp increase in the (Canada-US Free Trade Agreement); the recent growth in US beef exports, particularly to North Asia; and aspects of the MIL formula itself.

Given that our beef trade to the United States is worth over $1.1 billion a year, the federal government hopes to have the meat import law eliminated as part of the Uruguay Round of the GATT trade talks. Such a move could mean good news for meat exporters and producers. It promises greater predicability of market access as well as a boost to investor confidence in the beef industry.

  My colleague the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Bruce Scott) from southern Queensland recently noted the value adding efforts of the beef industry. Mr Scott said:

The beef industry has largely gone down the line of producing more feedlot beef. That creates a lot more stability in the meat industry, with beef of consistent quality coming onto the market. That is very important.

  But all that costs money, and to invest in the beef industry today requires substantial capital. If people are to invest in the meat industry, particularly at any stage of the feedlot industry, they need stability and predicability in the markets. Only then will beef producers get on with the job of expanding our beef exports and our beef industry in Australia. So the GATT talks and the December deadline are extremely important to the meat industry.

The United States is Australia's largest beef export market in quantity terms. However, it is worth noting the value of our beef, sheep meat and buffalo exports to the European Community. Although the EC only allows imports of 16,500 tonnes of sheep meat, 6,032 tonnes of beef and 2,250 tonnes of buffalo meat, the market is high priced and earns Australia about $150 million a year. These strict limits mean that the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation must issue quotas. These are issued without charge. The AMLC also has the power to restrict the export of live sheep and it can allocate these quotas free or by auctions, sale by tender or private sale. To date, these powers have not been used. In fact, Australia voluntarily withdrew its exports of live sheep to Saudi Arabia two years ago following a series of rejections, supposedly for quarantine reasons.

  Finally, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Act 1977 requires details of proposed quota allocation and management schemes to be published in the corporation's corporate plan, which must have ministerial approval, and to be available to all exporters. Also provided is a right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

  Overall, this legislation, described by one of my colleagues as `necessary evil', has the support of the federal coalition because it gives the Australian meat and livestock producer the best possible chance of export earnings without jeopardising export markets. Like my colleagues, I trust that Australia's problems with the United States meat import law will be resolved as quickly and as fairly as possible.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Herron)—I call Senator Birthday—I am sorry, I mean Senator Brownhill.