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Monday, 7 February 1994
Page: 431

Senator SPINDLER —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. I refer to reports that the minister finds GATT approval of Australia's unilateral tariff cuts `gratifying'—indeed, he indicated as much in answer to an earlier question—even though 200,000 jobs have been lost. Does the minister intend to comply with the suggestions by GATT, reported in today's Australian Financial Review, that Australia should, firstly, now act to modify quarantine and sanitary requirements because they are `a barrier for imports of agricultural products'; secondly, give up any idea of sector specific support schemes, notably telecommunications and pharmaceuticals; and, thirdly, cut tariffs even faster on TCF and on passenger cars? As a bare minimum, is the minister prepared to avoid any action which might endanger positive industry initiatives, such as the $500 million Mitsubishi expansion announced last Friday?

Senator McMULLAN —The most delightful contradiction in Senator Spindler's question is his view that our tariff policies are costing jobs when it is in the light of the known policies of the government that Mitsubishi made that very welcome announcement. We welcome that announcement, but it is in the light of and the certain knowledge of what our policies are that Mitsubishi has made that decision. It is not correct to say that those policies are in some way jeopardising that investment. Clear evidence is that they are not.

  What is gratifying is not simply that the GATT endorsed the policy framework of the government, but that it recognised the fact that that framework has left us well placed to take advantage of the enormous trade and, therefore, job benefits that can flow from the successful negotiation of GATT. There are various estimates as to whether it will be a $2.5 billion or $3.5 billion increase in GDP that might flow to Australia from the changes in GATT, but it will flow only if our businesses are well placed and have a policy framework in which they can take advantage of those opportunities. We believe they are. The international community has, in assessing them, come to the same view, and it is correct. That is why it is gratifying: because there will be investment, jobs and wealth in Australia as a consequence.

  There have not been suggestions by the GATT that we should do any of those things which Senator Spindler outlined, but it is true that some participants in the discussion, in the context of giving an overwhelmingly positive endorsement of our policies, raised some of those issues which Senator Spindler raised. I do not have time to refer to all of them, but the one issue that I particularly want to make a specific reference to is that some people consider that Australia should reduce the rigour of its quarantine protection. I will say unequivocally that we will not.

  The detail of implementation of that is, of course, not my responsibility but that of my colleague the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, but I have conferred sufficiently with him to be absolutely certain that his view is the same as mine—that we will not be undermining or reducing the rigour of our quarantine protection in Australia. Our view is that it is not in any way inconsistent with the proper conduct of international trade. We are open to food imports when they meet our quarantine standards and that is welcome, but we will not allow those standards to be undermined for very good and proper scientifically based reasons.