Presenter: The Turnbull Government is claiming a major trade breakthrough this morning.  Trade Minister Andrew Robb is attending the World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.  He’s been telling Steve Chase the WTO has voted to lift all export subsidies for agriculture. 

Andrew Robb: For the first time since the 1970s, we’ve had a major decision taken on agriculture.  The World Trade Organization – 161 countries – have decided this evening in Nairobi that they will support the abolishment of all export subsidies applying to agriculture, an issue that’s tormented Australian farmers for decades.

We’re talking about all goods, so from Australia’s point of view meat, dairy, sugar, grains, wine, horticulture, cotton and much more.  It is all goods, it is all countries; developed and developing.  Developing countries will take longer to remove these export subsidies, but developed countries will do so immediately.  It’s some $15 billion of subsidies which will be removed off the table.

Steve Chase: Can you give us some specific examples as to how it would benefit Australian agriculture?

Andrew Robb: Sugar is very much involved.  At different times, with different countries you see it involved with grains and dairy.  It was just five years ago the European community and the United States embarked on a fight over subsidies; they both applied major export subsidies which had a very significant effect on world trade in dairy products.  

It could happen to any industry at any time, but we’ve now agreed within the WTO that the export subsidies are a thing of the past.  It really is and has been a core objective of Australian trade policy since the 1970s.  

It was a key factor behind the creation of the Australian-led Cairns Group which has played again this week, a big part; Australia chairs that, I chaired that this week.  It’s been a very difficult negotiation and at times quite acrimonious, but in the end, both the developed and developing countries have agreed that export subsidies are a very destroying factor in world trade, and for the first time for many, many, many decades we have a level playing field for Australian farmers.

Steve Chase: And have you been able to Minister, calculate on a very rough basis as to what monetary value this would be for Australian agriculture?

Andrew Robb: It’s impossible in many respects.  What we know is there are subsidies that countries could access worth $15 billion a year at the moment.  Now that this decision has been taken, no country will have any prospect of accessing those subsidies.  We have seen that $15 billion can do a lot of damage if it’s subsidised in terms of many products; that’s been taken off the table today, and for the first time in decades we’ve seen a major agricultural decision.  In fact it’s the first major agricultural deal in the WTO since 1994, so it’s a really landmark decision, an historic decision, a remarkable decision that’s going to put Australian agriculture in a much fairer position as it deals across trade across the world.

Steve Chase: To be frank Minister, it sounds as though on the basis of what you’re saying, you weren’t really expecting it?

Andrew Robb: Well I’ve been involved in one way or another for many years.  I used to run the National Farmers’ Federation in the 1980s and we confronted all of these export subsidy issues, in particular the EU and the United States in those times.  Now we’re seeing a lot of the developing countries doing the same thing and I’ve become a bit jaundiced to be honest over many decades.  

I’m pinching myself at the moment, realising what has been decided today; it is a momentous decision and it’s going to have a very significant effect on our ability as Australian farmers to compete in markets all around the world.  It will help our competitive position, it will help our growth, it will help our jobs; it’s a great thing for Australian farmers, and it’s a great thing for Australia.

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