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Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Australia

Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Australia

April 21, 2015
Geneva, Switzerland

*As Delivered*

The United States welcomes Assistant Secretary Holmes and her team.  Here in Geneva, the United States is appreciative on an ongoing basis for the leadership of Ambassador McCormick.  We appreciate the informative report that the Australian team prepared for this meeting, and for its statement today.  As always, we are grateful to the Secretariat for its hard work in compiling this report, for the work of the Chair, and for our discussant’s helpful input. 

Australia is a leader in the trading community.  It is a committed advocate of trade liberalization, unilaterally and on a multilateral, regional, plurilateral, and bilateral basis.  It is a global leader in advocating thoughtful solutions to policy issues that we all face.  A commitment to open, competitive markets has been the foundation of Australia’s trade policies.  That approach, and the benefits it has generated, has made Australia’s trade policy illustrative for all of us.  And in the coming years, we will also learn from watching how Australia sustains that approach as it adjusts to a tapering of the resource boom that has powered its growth for the past two decades.

Australia plays an active role in the multilateral trade system, where agreements have the potential to generate the greatest overall benefits.  We have valued Australia’s robust support for multilateral trade liberalization through the DDA negotiations.  We look forward to working with Australia to bring the ITA expansion negotiations to a successful conclusion as soon as possible.  We are working closely with Australia in the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiations, and believe strongly that one of the best ways we can all respond to the environmental challenges our world faces is by achieving our goal of free trade in environmental goods throughout the world.  We commend Australia’s sustained input and leadership in the negotiations on fisheries subsidies as a Friend of Fish.   We are encouraged by Australia’s progress toward ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.  We welcome Australia’s announcement last year that it will seek to join the Government Procurement Agreement.  And of course, we are extremely appreciative of Australia’s role as a founding co-chair of the Trade in Services Agreement, commonly known as TiSA.  We look forward to continuing these important multilateral efforts with Australia, to open markets and address important and emerging issues for the benefits of all Members.

Like us, Australia believes that ambitious bilateral Free Trade Agreements can further open markets and encourage multilateral liberalization.  Our bilateral FTA, the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), entered into force in 2005.  Ten years later, it remains one of the most ambitious trade agreements either of our countries has ever negotiated.  It has also helped lead to significant expansion of two-way trade and investment, as we sought and anticipated when we negotiated the agreement just over a decade ago; and we look forward to continued growth in the coming years. 

Reflecting its deep commitment to trade liberalization, Australia has played a leading role in regional trade arrangements.  Australia was a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 1989, and year after year, Australia has made valuable contributions to APEC’s important efforts to promote trade and investment liberalization in the Asia-Pacific. 

We are now working with Australia in the most ambitious effort yet to promote regional trade and investment liberalization, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Australia was, like the United States, one of the founding members of the TPP negotiation in 2009, which has since expanded to 12 countries and could potentially expand to other economies in the region.   In TPP, we are seeking to liberalize trade and investment on a comprehensive basis, and are tackling a broad range of issues with relevance to the way trade happens in the 21st century.  These are ambitious objectives, but the 12 TPP partners are committed to them, in part because we know an ambitious agreement is one that will generate the greatest benefits for its members, and for our citizens.   We are committed to a TPP that is fully consistent with our obligations here at the WTO and that contributes to a stronger multilateral system.  After five years, we are approaching the conclusion of the TPP negotiation, and we would like to commend Australia for the leadership role it has played in helping shape this important initiative.

These important initiatives all reflect a strong record of Australian trade leadership in the region and in the world.  That said, there are a few areas where further advancements could be useful, or where recent developments have not appeared consistent with Australia’s historic support for liberalization.  

As a leading trader of agricultural products, we urge the Australian government to ensure that its SPS regulations and requirements, and the review process for establishing those requirements, are the least trade-restrictive possible.

The Secretariat notes in its report that Australia has pursued reforms toward developing a biosecurity system that facilitates trade while managing risks from imported products.  We welcome that process and look forward to working with Australia in the future.

The Secretariat’s report noted concerns by some countries that Australia’s process of aligning its import policy on BSE with the World Animal Health Organization standards has delayed the finalization of risk assessments for beef.  We urge Australia to take account of international standards, including those of Codex and OIE, when developing its regulations and import requirements.

We note that last year, Australia completed FTAs with three of its four largest trading partners.  However, it appears that the comprehensiveness of some of these agreements may be questionable, with growing shares of current trade excluded from tariff elimination and growing numbers of products excluded altogether.  We encourage Australia to sustain its historic commitment to comprehensive market access outcomes reflected in its previous agreements, and to be mindful of the concerns reflected in GATT Article XXIV.

Overall, there is no question that Australia has been an important voice in the global trading system, and a valued partner in efforts to open markets and address important issues.  We look forward to further productive cooperation with Australia, and in particular to working in close partnership to conclude the TPP negotiation in the near future.   

Thank you.