WTO dumps on Australian steel protection

Posted on 31 July 2018

Source: The Australian

The World Trade Organisation has singled out Australia as a global leader in imposing trade sanctions, with trade experts blaming the report card on bipartisan ­“odious protectionism” of the steel industry.

The WTO report came ahead of a speech in Melbourne today by Trade Minister Steven Ciobo talking up the Coalition’s free-trade agenda and success in sealing free-trade deals.

Mr Ciobo will say Australia has not “succumbed to the siren song of protectionism” sweeping the globe.

In a new WTO report on trade-restrictive measures, Australia is listed as the third most active WTO member to impose anti-dumping measures last year, behind India and the US, and the fourth most active in initiating anti-dumping investigations.

When it came to metal-related investigations, Australia was listed as second to the US, which launched 28 investigations compared to Australia’s 15.

The report’s authors warned the uncertainty created by the rise in trade sanctions and restrictions “could place economic recovery in jeopardy” and highlighted US President Donald Trump’s pro-protectionist policies and “America first” rhetoric.

“The more worrying trend during this period is the increase in trade-restrictive measures, which has come at a time of increasing trade tensions and associated rhetoric. This should be of real concern to the international community,” the WTO authors said. “Further escalation could carry potentially large risks for the system itself.”

Mr Ciobo will tell a Committee for Economic Development of Australia event today that when the country’s free-trade negotiations are concluded, 88 per cent of Australia’s two-way trade will be covered by binding agreements.

“The Coalition has concluded or is undertaking free-trade talks with countries accounting for more than $55 trillion in combined GDP,” Mr Ciobo will say.

Trade expert Alan Oxley of ITS Global said most of Australia’s investigations and anti-dumping measures were initiated by the Anti-Dumping Commission to defend Australian steel products or to restrict imports which might compete with them.

“What we have created here is a very odious protectionist tool,” he told The Australian.

Mr Oxley said the Coalition had increased the right of the Anti-Dumping Commission to impose restrictions on competitive steel products, but both parties were keen on initiating investigations and counter-measures for political reasons.

The former trade diplomat said the new report exposed Australia’s protectionist “blemishes”.

Labor’s Industry spokesman Kim Carr, who announced measures to boost the power of the Anti-Dumping Commission on Monday, said the report proved Australia was under “assault” from international “cartels”.

He vowed that the opposition would be very active and vigilant about dumping if elected.


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