2 March 2004

Free trade deal negotiators in conflict

[Federal Trade Minister] MARK VAILE: I don't recall such advice. I read stories in the media that were generated out of the Senate Estimates questioning, but on the ground in Washington at the time I don't recall getting any of that sort of advice from officials.

Obviously, the Government had to assess the balance of what had been achieved against the balance of what we were expected to defend in terms of Australia's interests, and then make a decision. Whether we take that deal or whether we put it to one side and maybe wait for another 20 or 25 years to have an opportunity.

We decided to go ahead with it because we believed the benefits that were on offer overwhelmingly balanced up the issues that we had to protect.

GRAEME DOBELL: Is it true that twice in the last week in Washington Australia's trade negotiators, the technical people, told you that you would damage Australia's long-term agriculture objectives, damage Australia's long-term stand in the WTO and your leadership of the Cairns Group?

MARK VAILE: Oh, look, we had a whole range of discussions on a daily basis right throughout the fortnight that we were negotiating in Washington and, in those discussions - and I'll be quite honest, we had a range of discussions on what are the implications of making this decision or that decision - we took the view that the way we have structured this agreement we were not going to damage our reputation as the leader of the Cairns Group or as a lead advocate in agricultural trade liberalisation across the world.

Why can I feel another round of recrimination about what advice a minister received or recalls coming on?

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