Senate debates

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping) Legislation

3:26 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short statement.

Leave granted.

Unfortunately I was constrained from getting to the chamber in time during the earlier debate on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Measures) and Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) bills. As such, I seek leave to incorporate my second reading debate speech into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

A couple of years ago I was at a public meeting at the shores of Lake Alexandrina, near the mouth of the Murray. The meeting was about the looming environmental and social disaster through the lack of water flowing into the Lower Lakes.

Darren O'Halloran, travelled 160 kilometres that morning to talk to me about another looming disaster in his home town of Millicent in the south east of South Australia.

This looming disaster however was not environmental, it was in fact completely man-made, and it related to Darren's fears as a worker at the Kimberly-Clark mills in the south east.

His complaint wasn't with the company that he regards as a good employer, but with the fact that his employment was on the line because of dumped goods from Indonesia and China.

After asking a series of questions through the Senate estimates process and in the parliament, it has become clear to me how unfair current dumping rules are, how difficult and expensive they are for Australian manufacturers to access, and how, what is supposed to be a 'level playing field', is anything but.

Since hearing about the case involving South Australian tissue paper producer Kimberly-Clark and dumped goods from China and Indonesia, I have not only learned more about international trade rules, I have become more and more frustrated with them.

And that is what led me to introduce a private senator's bill—the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping) Bill earlier this year.

I should state at the outset that I am pleased with the discussions I and my office have had with the government on my proposals, and that it has since announced it will make a series of improvements to the dumping regime, including through the measures in this bill being debated today.

In the case of Kimberly-Clark, the government imposed dumping duties on Chinese and Indonesian tissue products in 2008 after investigations found that Chinese products were being sold at 2 to 25 per cent below the cost in its domestic market, while Indonesian toilet paper was found to have been dumped at 33 to 45 per cent below value.

But, this decision was overruled in 2009 following a review by the Trade Measures Branch of Customs which determined that there was, quote, 'no material injury' to Australian manufacturing as a result of these dumped imports.

The TMRO had determined that even though dumping had been proven and even though Kimberly-Clark had suffered injury, the two were not linked.

If you ask me, this case highlighted key concerns about a lack of access, and an absence of fair consideration for the impact on Australian manufacturers, when it comes to fighting dumped goods.

And then there is the case of CSR Viridian which instigated an anti-dumping case in 2010 for clear float glass against imports from China, Indonesia and Thailand.

CSR Viridian had to spend around $300,000 conducting preliminary investigations prior to launching their application with Customs, whose investigation found that goods were being dumped from China between 11 and 26 per cent below the cost in the domestic market, from Indonesia at 3.3 to 22 per cent below cost and from Thailand at 3.5 to 12 per cent below cost.

But, the investigation was terminated because material injury to Viridian could not be confirmed.

The processes these two companies faced—and I dare say they aren't alone in their frustrations—I believe is unfair.

Whether it's the application process, the review or appeals process, it seems it is the Australian companies on the back foot when it comes to dumping.

Free trade is a good thing, don't get me wrong. But it shouldn't be 'free for all' trade. And from all reports, that's how we're perceived by other countries.

The 'Free Trade Taliban', they call Australia, because of our fundamentalist approach free trade. Instead, I believe we should be fighting tooth and nail in support of our domestic manufacturers, not leaving loopholes open for overseas companies to continue to dump goods into our markets.

Today's bill is the first of three bills the government will introduce to improve Australia's dumping regime. It will extend the definition of 'interested parties' to include representative bodies and trade unions, and will expand the economic factors the Minister must consider to include impact on jobs and impact on capital investment.

These are two of the issues I raised in my bill, and I welcome these changes.

I also welcome the government's announcement that it will provide additional funding to increase the resources available not only to the office of the TMRO but for a position to assist small to medium sized businesses with dumping claims.

The government has also announced it will consult with industry stakeholders to improve its protocols when it comes to accessing independent experts for investigations, accepting new information, reducing the timeframe of investigation periods and changes to the review process.

These are also matters I raised in my private senator's bill and will significantly improve the status quo. Having said this, I believe we can go further.

I want to take this opportunity to raise three key issues which the government does not support because it says they are not compliant with the WTO.

The first one is to reverse the onus of proof; allowing Customs to approach the overseas company selling goods in the Australian market and require evidence that they are not dumping and, should the overseas company be uncooperative, to assume that dumping is occurring.

I believe such an amendment would save considerable time and cost and would allow Customs investigations to be completed in a timely manner, before significant damage to the domestic industry is caused.

Why is it that Australian companies have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather evidence of dumping, when it should be the requirement of the person trying to export their goods into Australia to prove they are not dumping?

The second key issue relates to the Kimberly-Clark and CSR Viridian cases, where even though dumping had been proven and material injury had been proven that the two were not considered to be linked. If goods are being dumped, you have to assume that domestic manufacturers are going to be affected.

Finally, the third key issue is the delay in applying preliminary affirmative determinations.

After all, by the time a company discovers goods are being dumped, spends months gathering evidence that dumping is occurring, presents it to Customs which then waits 60 days before it provides a preliminary assessment and applies preliminary affirmative determinations, the damage that has been caused could already be significant.

We need to do everything we can to support Australian manufacturers. It is that simple.

And for the government to say we can't 'because the WTO says so', I do not think is good enough.

The WTO's rules on anti-dumping were finalised in 1994. That is a long time ago. Perhaps it is time we question some parts of the agreement rather than take them as is.

The dumping of goods destroys domestic markets. It is basic economics.

There is a need for Australia's anti-dumping framework to be substantially overhauled and I welcome the measures the Government has announced it will make in coming months through legislative changes and through changes internally within Customs.

I support this bill and I look forward to debating the subsequent bills the government will introduce to improve Australia's anti-dumping regime.

But I foreshadow now that I will push for those three key issues I have raised with regards to reversing the onus of proof, the application of duties where dumping and material injury have been proven and the ability for preliminary duties to be applied from the outset.


robyn furci
Posted on 25 Oct 2011 4:36 pm

Is Free Trade the name given to such a very big host of foreign food imports found in the two major supermarkets. Is the government really interested in the original Australian farmers remaining in business? We hear of carbon pricing assistance to be given to the farmer - but who actually owns the farms? The Australian taxpayer is given really very little choice in buying Australian products in the supermarkets but, rather, we are being socially engineered into helping to fill the pockets of other foreign interests and monopoly Australian supermarkets. Yes, it's true. The Australian people should be polled on this matter to gain their opinion, seeing their own freedom of choice and health is very much at issue. Where has all the good food gone?