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Aus Ag Minister rejects EU claims

A European Union (EU) decision to challenge Australia's quarantine regime in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is extremely disappointing, Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said today.

In a statement released last night in Brussels, the EU said it has decided to request Australia to enter into WTO formal consultations on its entire quarantine system for imports of agricultural products. The move forces Australia to defend its quarantine arrangements.

"While we are always prepared to discuss our quarantine arrangements with other WTO Members, I am particularly disappointed at the tone of Commissioner Pascal Lamy's statement, which follows Australia's decision to challenge the EU sugar subsidy regime," Mr Truss said.

"Mr Lamy's claims that Australia's quarantine system is highly efficient at blocking the import of agricultural products and that Australia flagrantly breaches WTO rules are wrong.

"It has not escaped Australia's attention that this action comes on the same day as the failure to reach agreement on how to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers in the WTO agriculture negotiations.

"The European Union is the prime culprit in derailing efforts to free up world markets. It is difficult not to see this as a cynical attempt to deflect criticism of the EU for not living up to its obligations under the Doha mandate.

"I am confident that discussions in the WTO will clearly show that Australia's quarantine measures are based on sound science.

"Australia is relatively free of pests and diseases of concern in the rest of the world. We adopt a conservative approach to quarantine in order to maintain that status.

"We are prepared to defend our quarantine arrangements and will use this opportunity to prove again that our quarantine measures are fair, legitimate, transparent and science-based.

"Australia has concerns about many of the EU's own quarantine measures. The ban placed on products containing HGP was implemented without the benefit of sound scientific investigation.

"The WTO has previously found the EU guilty of implementing decisions with no sound scientific basis. Despite a ruling by the WTO that they change their requirements, the EU remains in breach of WTO rules in preventing imports of HGP-treated beef."

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