The Hon. Tim Fischer, MP
The Hon. Tim Fischer MP

Media release

The Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer
20 May, 1998

WTO Conference a Big Leap Forward for Trade Reform 

The Second World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial conference this week has provided a quantum leap forward in preparing for crucial agriculture negotiations in 1999 the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer, said in Geneva today.

"This is an important breakthrough and will deliver major benefits to Australian farmers facing subsidies in OECD countries alone of over $US 280 billion per year," Mr Fischer said.

"We now have agreement, against the odds, to begin preparation as soon as September this year for agriculture negotiations. Australia and the Cairns Group of agricultural trading nations played an active role in getting this outcome, building on the success of the Sydney Cairns Group Ministerial meeting in early April."

Mr Fischer said the Ministerial meeting had also successfully laid the groundwork for a new comprehensive round of multilateral trade negotiations, another key Australian objective.

"This means we now have the green light to begin work preparing for services and industrial tariff negotiations, as well as agriculture. Successfully pushing forward this agenda will mean more jobs for an Australia that depends increasingly on international trade".

"Importantly, we will be able to take a decision at the next WTO Ministerial meeting in 1999 on the scope, structure and time-frame for a new round of trade negotiations, so that we can begin and conclude negotiations expeditiously". This will allow us to build on the successes of the Uruguay Round which are estimated to add around an extra $3.7 billion per year to Australia's national income," Mr Fischer said.

Mr Fischer also welcomed the offer of the United States to host the 1999 WTO Ministerial meeting. This will keep the US engaged in the push forward on trade reform, including agriculture, where the US and Cairns Group have shared interests in maintaining negotiating momentum.

Mr Fischer said that he had nevertheless used the Geneva meeting to register firmly with US Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman, and Trade Representative, Charlene Barshefsky, inconsistencies in US trade policy such as new export subsidies announced recently by the US under its EEP and DEIP programs.

Similarly he had also made clear to EU Vice President, Sir Leon Brittan, that Australia continued to be underwhelmed by the lack of ambition in Europe for agricultural reform.

"European consumers continue to pay a heavy price for the Common Agricultural Policy. Further agricultural trade reform both in Europe and internationally is vital to provide better access for Australian exporters. That is why the advances made in Geneva this week - clearing the path for further WTO negotiations - are of such fundamental importance," Mr Fischer said.

Mr Fischer said that Australia has played a key role at the Geneva meeting in clearing the way for further international trade reform .

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