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Trade objectives welcomed, but warning over focus.

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NR 48/2000 5 April 2000

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TRADE OBJECTIVES WELCOMED, BUT WARNING OVER FOCUS A new statement from the Commonwealth Government, outlining Australia's trade performance and forward planning, has been welcomed by the National Farmers' Federation, but with a word of caution about Australia's trade focus.

NFF President, Ian Donges, said 'Australia's Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement 2000' launched today by Trade Minister Mark Vaile, would provide trade negotiators with a clear direction as they continue the push to open up more markets for agriculture.

"There's no doubt Australia has performed well in pushing for more trade liberalisation, but the challenge for trade negotiators now is to remain focused on dealing with multilateral trade agreements, rather than get side-tracked by the current interest in regionalism," Mr Donges said.

"We support reported comments by WTO Chief Mike Moore yesterday, warning that small trading economies could suffer from preferential agreements, set up by stronger trading nations after the failure of the WTO round in Seattle last year.

"Developing countries would be better served by a resumption of a wider round of WTO talks, because of the benefits that will flow to those countries," Mr Donges said.

"NFF welcomes the general thrust of the trade strategies outlined in Minister Vaile's statement, particularly his affirmation today to work energetically for a new round of multilateral trade negotiations," he said.

However, NFF is concerned about another distraction to the WTO process, the Biosafety Protocol - finalised in early February 2000 - which could unduly restrict international agricultural trade.

"While Australia is yet to make a decision on whether to sign the document, it will potentially add to an already complex set of rules, and the NFF will be pushing the Government for a full and detailed consultative process," Mr Donges said.

"This is an area where trade negotiators should proceed with caution, because the Protocol - as it stands - has the capacity to circumvent existing world trade rules and permit selfish political interests to replace scientific rigour in trade decisions.

"Australia's trading interests could be severely damaged if this treaty injects uncertainty into our international trade arrangements and an intolerance of innovation in food and agriculture," Mr Donges said.

For further information

Mr Ian Donges President, NFF 02 6273-3855 0419 613 349

Dr Wendy Craik Executive Director, NFF 02 6273-3855 0419 257 469

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