Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

25 September 2002

Australia: September 2002

The Trade Policy Review Body of the World Trade Organization (WT0) concluded its fourth review of Australia on 23 and 25 September 2002. The text of the Chairperson's concluding remarks is attached as a summary of the salient points which emerged during the discussion.

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Transparency in trade policy, praised as “truly exemplary”

The review enables the TPRB to conduct a collective examination of the full range of trade policies and practices of each WTO member countries at regular periodic intervals to monitor significant trends and developments which may have an impact on the global trading system.

The review is based on two reports which are prepared respectively by the WTO Secretariat and the government under review and which cover all aspects of the country’s trade policies, including its domestic laws and regulations, the institutional framework, bilateral, regional and other preferential agreements, the wider economic needs and the external environment. A record of the discussion and the Chairperson’s summing-up together with these two reports will be published in due course at the complete trade policy review of Australia and will be available from the WTO Secretariat, Centre William Rappard, 154 rue de Lausanne, 1211 Geneva 21.


This meeting has contributed to a much better understanding of recent developments in Australia’s trade and trade-related policies, whose transparency is truly exemplary. With such transparency and the active interaction between the Australian delegation, the discussant and Members, the outcome has been a very successful fourth Review of Australia’s trade policies, practices and measures.

Members commended Australia for its impressive economic performance and sound macroeconomic policies that helped to weather the Asian financial crisis. They noted its impressive GDP growth, low inflation rate and falling unemployment level. Members took note of the significant changes brought by the New Tax System, including the General Services Tax, the Luxury Car Tax and the New Business Tax. There was general agreement that trade liberalisation, including significant unilateral measures, together with ongoing structural reforms and prudent macroeconomic policies had undoubtedly contributed to Australia’s strong economic performance over the past decade.

Members congratulated Australia for its global orientation and its active role at the WTO, including its support for launching the Doha Round. Members noted Australia’s strong commitment to the multilateral trading system and wondered about its position with respect to regional and bilateral trade agreements as well as the implementation of its 2001 undertaking on duty and quota free access for Least-Developed Countries.

Members noted Australia’s low level of applied tariff protection and its plans to reduce unilaterally remaining tariff peaks in sensitive sectors such as passenger motor vehicles and textiles, clothing and footwear by 2005. Australia was encouraged to reduce tariff escalation as well as to bridge the gap between applied and bound rates. Despite a recent drop in recourse to contingency measures, Australia remained a major user of anti-dumping actions. Government procurement remained a major tool of industrial policy with Australia being the only major industrialized country that is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement. Certain Members sought clarification on the liberalization of parallel imports and encouraged the strengthening of the intellectual property rights protection.

Despite low applied tariffs rates, assistance in form tax incentives, grants and concessional loans to domestic production of goods and services remained widespread. Members enquired about plans for reducing support, particularly to the automotive sector. Members noted changes in Australia’s SPS requirements and voiced concern over their trade restrictiveness and the lengthiness of related procedures. They noted that single desk arrangements were in use for promoting exports of certain agricultural items, which were seemingly competitive in international markets. The also noted that several industry-specific schemes remained in place. Market access conditions in the financial and telecommunications sectors as well as local content requirements and other forms of intervention in broadcasting, advertising and motion pictures were also discussed.

Members also sought clarification on several specific issues including:

  • the impact of economic slowdown on commodity prices and current account balance;
  • screening procedures for foreign direct investment;
  • duty and tax concessions;
  • customs valuation and clearance;
  • import licensing requirements;
  • competition policy;
  • maritime transport restrictions;
  • tuition fees for educational services based on nationality;
  • professional services; and
  • electronic commerce.

Members expressed their appreciation of the oral and written responses and explanations provided by the Australian delegation; they looked forward to receiving written answers on outstanding questions.

This brings us to the conclusion of our Review of Australia. The large number of advance questions, numerous interventions and the high level of attendance indicate the important role that Australia plays at the WTO. In this context, I would encourage Australia to continue in its strong support for the multilateral trading system. I also hope that Australia will take to heart the concerns expressed by many Members, including on SPS and tariff peaks, while noting the appreciation of Members for the largely open and transparent trade regime that Australia maintains.