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Pork Industry: A case study on use of evidence in a Productivity Commission Inquiry

Published: 22 Feb 2008

by Joe Lederman and Charles Fisher © Lawmedia Pty Ltd, February 2008
FoodLegal
Australian Food Lawyers and Consultants

The Productivity Commission recently released an Accelerated Report on the Inquiry into the Import of Pigmeat. In this article, FoodLegal examines the nature of the Productivity Commission Act and the way in which the Productivity Commission interprets the provisions of the Act, and the legal difficulties for any Australian industry that might be seeking support for government protection through this avenue.

This article provides a case study for how a domestic industry sought protection from cheap imports. In October 2007, the Productivity Commission was asked to examine the Australian pork industry and whether protective tariff safeguards should be recommended. The preliminary findings of the resulting Inquiry were released in its Accelerated Report on the Inquiry into the Import of Pigmeat in December 2007 ('the Accelerated Report'). This Productivity Commission Inquiry into the pork industry allows an examination of broad issues and the fact-finding processes used by the Productivity Commission. The final report has yet be published.

1. Productivity Commission Inquiries for industry protection safeguards

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The Australian government is party an international treaty signed in 1994 known as the World Trade Agreement. Its objective was the liberalisation of trade. Any tariffs or other taxes on imports restrict trade and are therefore subjected to numerous rules. Conceptually, countries are permitted under the World Trade Agreement and the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to impose tariffs on imports where a domestic industry is threatened or suffering a serious injury caused by an increase of imports. Under international obligations, only a competent and independent authority can investigate and recommend to the government use of this exception. In Australia, that investigative body is the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission must perform its functions with reference to its policy guidelines. These are listed in section 8 of the Productivity Commission Act and appear to limit the Productivity Commission in the manner in which it makes its findings.

The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the Australian pork industry has been prompted by a relaxation of quarantine protocols into the importation of uncooked pigmeat beginning in 1990 which has lead to increasing importation from the USA, Canada and Denmark. The procedures set out in the Productivity Commission Act to recommend the use of safeguards require that the Productivity Commission establish the following elements:
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