Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Cabinet Secretary, Senator Sinodinos, representing the Minister for Trade and Investment. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline for the Senate the benefits to Australia of the historic World Trade Organization agreement to abolish agricultural export subsidies?
I thank Senator Williams, my colleague from New South Wales, for his question and for his longstanding interest in agricultural matters, and indeed for the expertise he has in that regard. Sadly over time there have been fewer people in this place with that direct expertise, and I look forward to him passing that expertise on in due course to other younger people in this place.
I am happy to report that as a result of the 10th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, the 163 members of the WTO have agreed to abolish all agricultural export subsidies. This is going to be very important for Australian farmers. This is a historic achievement. As anybody with an understanding of Australian politics, with an understanding of the battles in the 1970s and 1980s over tariffs and agricultural policy, will know that one of the touchstones of that battle was the removal of agricultural subsidies, because as a very efficient exporter we have been disadvantaged by the subsidies that other countries, big blocs like the European Union, have had. What that does is dilute returns to efficient producers and it floods the market with excess supply, and that is to the disadvantage of countries like Australia.
We have one of the most efficient agricultural sectors in the world. Our farmers are amongst, if not the most, efficient in the world. For us this is a red-letter day. Export subsidies are being phased out for all sorts of commodities: sugar, beef, pork, lamb, dairy, wheat, rice, wine, fruit, vegetables, processed foods and cotton. Their abolition will permanently remove a longstanding source of distortion in global agricultural markets. It is a remarkable historic agreement which will bring to an end more than $15 billion worth of agricultural subsidies in a major win for Australian farmers. (Time expired)
This is unalloyed good news for our exporters, particularly in agriculture, because competing export nations will now be forced to remove more than $15 billion of market-distorting export subsidies from their agricultural producers. When we started cutting tariffs, that was important to take cost imposts off our agricultural sector. Our manufacturing sector was protected by tariffs. This is also freeing up our agricultural sector by taking away unfair competition in overseas markets. It is very important for us to understand that Australia's unwavering support for free trade is now paying dividends as our agricultural sector becomes relatively much more competitive on the world stage. This is a great result for Australian farmers and for regional Australia.
This gives us a double whammy of benefit. We have the benefit of the China-Australia free trade agreement, which entered into force on 20 December last year, removing more than 86 per cent of Australia's goods exports to China from tariffs. That is worth more than $90 billion. Also, tariffs on $1 billion worth of other goods exports have been reduced. Once the agreement is fully implemented, 96 per cent of Australian goods will enter China duty free. So ChAFTA combined with this WTO agreement means a double victory for Australian farmers. It is a great tribute to someone whom I now regard as probably the best trade minister in a generation, and that is my colleague in the House Mr Robb.