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Tuesday, 17 February 1959

Mr McEWEN - A question related to the sale of flour by the Australian Wheat Board would normally be answered by my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry. The honorable member's question, however, touches on negotiations that I conducted for the Government through the Department of Trade. The answer is that, Ceylon having been Australia's most important market for flour, and Australia being a very important market for Ceylon tea, there was a very serious deterioration of our trade relations when Ceylon, for a period of fifteen or sixteen months, bought no Australian flour. That was the basis on which trade discussions were initiated. The Minister of Commerce and Trade for Ceylon came to Australia by invitation last year and, after discussions, Ceylon purchased in the last few months of last year 30,000 tons of Australian flour. I then went, by invitation, to Ceylon, where an agreement was concluded under which the Government of Ceylon agreed to buy, on normal commercial terms. 100,000 tons of flour a year for each of the years 1959 and 1960, and I would say that there is a fair expectation that that arrangement will continue beyond 1960. Mr. Alvapillai, who is the permanent secretary of the department in Ceylon that is concerned with this matter, came to Australia in the last few weeks and, happily, he has concluded, to the mutual satisfaction of the Australian Wheat Board and of his own government, a contract under which 50,000 tons of Australian flour will be purchased for delivery over the next few months. There will, no doubt, in terms of the arrangement, be negotiations covering a further 50,000 tons of flour before this year is out so that, as will be the case under the arrangement for next year. 100,000 tons will be sold this year.

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