The Australian Government today warned anti-dumping changes proposed by the Opposition would put Australia in direct violation of its international trade obligations, risking retaliation against Australian exporters.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today announced he would shift the onus of proof in dumping investigations to the companies exporting to Australia.
"This would inevitably result in trading partners taking Australia to World Trade Organization courts to seek retaliatory action, such as punitive tariffs on agricultural or manufactured exports," Trade Minister Craig Emerson said.
"Mr Abbott's political opportunism knows no bounds, but it would come at great cost to farmers and manufacturing workers," Dr Emerson said.
In a public submission to a Senate Committee looking at this issue earlier this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised that "Australia cannot impose an onus on the importer to prove the goods have not been dumped".
The Gillard Government, meanwhile, is making the most important changes to Australia's anti-dumping system in a decade. These will streamline the process and improve the timeliness of decision-making, including setting a 30-day time limit for ministerial decisions for the first time.
"Our changes include a 45 per cent increase in Customs staff working on anti-dumping claims, and creating a new role within the Australian Industry Group to assist Australian manufacturers in lodging applications to remedy any injury caused by dumping," Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor said.
"Mr Abbott's proposals add nothing to the 29 reforms the Government is already implementing.
"Moving responsibility for anti-dumping decisions from Customs to another department is just bureaucratic reshuffling and will take away the responsibility for making decisions from the staff who actually monitor what is being imported into Australia.
"The Government has already said that it will take a harder line with overseas companies and importers that don't meet time frames."
Dr Emerson said the Opposition's plan to reverse the onus of proof in dumping claims was the latest in a series of attempts by Mr Abbott to violate Australia's international trade obligations.
In August, the Coalition supported an anti-trade Private Member's Bill on compulsory palm oil labelling that would have breached Australia's obligations under the World Trade Organization.
Just prior to that, the Shadow Agriculture Minister tabled a Bill which sought to overturn a World Trade Organization ruling that New Zealand apples be allowed into Australia, subject to scientifically-based quarantine conditions.
The draft Bill could have put at risk the $110 million worth of sugar Australia sends to New Zealand each year, or the $39 million in Tasmanian chocolate exports and $52 million of automotive exports.
"Each day it becomes clearer that the Opposition has lost all economic credibility," Dr Emerson said.
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