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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25975

Senator NETTLE (12:52 PM) —Whilst we are dealing with the first amendment on my sheet of amendments and the first amendment on Senator Brown's sheet of amendments, I ask the minister to respond to the concerns that have been put forward on the trade agreement's capacity to undermine our quarantine laws. There have been comments from two academics from Sydney University and the University of New South Wales that a political forum is being set up outside the auspices of the WTO, with the capacity to discuss and make decisions on quarantine issues. There have also been comments from US farmers that these discussions will be equally as important as or more important than the decisions that are made about changes to Australia's tariffs quotas. Could the minister respond to these concerns. They are ones that I know are shared by farmers in New South Wales whom I have spoken to, who can see that setting up a committee of trade representatives rather than of scientists, with the capacity to facilitate trade, heads us in a direction of decisions being made about our quarantine laws that are not purely scientific decisions.

These decisions will be influenced by the terms of reference which the minister read out. The final term of reference for this committee that he read out was about the two committees facilitating trade. These are not the scientific committees that exist in the WTO; they are political forums to which our government and the US government appoint individuals. They make decisions and then, even if the decision they make is not something that, for example, the United States is happy with, they can take that decision to the disputes mechanism within this agreement, which allows another panel comprising three trade lawyers to make a decision about whether or not our quarantine laws create a barrier to trade. This is the issue that the minister acknowledged last night. Decisions about the implementation of this agreement can be made in a trade forum of three trade lawyers—not in the Australian parliament, as proposed in this amendment that the Greens are putting forward. Decisions about the implementation of the trade agreement can be made by a panel of three trade lawyers. There is no comfort for Australian farmers. Firstly, we have got this committee of trade representatives deciding on quarantine laws. If the US government is not happy with those decisions, the matter can then go to the disputes mechanism within this agreement—a disputes mechanism whereby three trade lawyers are making a decision. How does that provide any comfort to Australian farmers concerned about the quarantine laws that protect their livelihoods?