Trade Minister Don Farrell has also chaired a meeting of 19 agricultural export countries, agreeing to push the World Trade Organisation for reform to the sector.
A statement from the group reiterated support and solidarity for the Ukrainian people and expressed “grave concern” for the consequences of Ukraine’s destruction and global supply chains, including the key commodities of products including wheat, maize, barley and sunflower oil.
“We underline the importance of maintaining open and predictable markets, and Ukraine’s ability to trade,” the statement said.
“The food security impacts are dramatic for those directly affected in Ukraine but are not just restricted to Ukraine and its citizens.
“The impact of the war, including of the blockage of Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, is seriously jeopardising food supply to some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has up-ended global wheat exports, with more than a third typically traversing the Black Sea region to which the Kremlin is trying to cut off access by taking control of key Ukrainian port cities.
“We stress the need to ensure that the trade routes, especially sea routes and ports, are not blocked by the threat of the use of force,” the joint statement said.
“In this context we will seek to support Ukraine and facilitate its exports. Within this context, we will look for ways to help Ukrainian farmers to continue planting and growing cereals and oilseeds, much needed for themselves and for the world.”
Farrell is representing Australia at the 12th World Trade Organisation ministerial conference.
The 164-member body is seeking to reach agreements to keep markets open, not restrict exports and a binding decision not to curb deliveries to the World Food Program.
The new trade minister and South Australian Senator has put agricultural trade front and centre of his first official overseas trip in the role to Geneva.
Farrell said conflict and unilateral actions from countries posed a threat to global trade stability.
“This conference is an opportunity for the WTO to play a part in demonstrating that international rules matter,” he said in his opening statement.
“The Australian government believes trade has been a great enabler.
“Trade has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and built and sustained relationships between countries.
“But we must not take for granted the benefits of trade, and the global system that enables it.”
While Farrell did not directly refer to China in his opening address, Australia and its allies have continually expressed commitment to freedom of navigation through the contested South China Sea region.
Australia relies heavily on trade routes through the South China Sea, which was the site of conflict between a Chinese jet and an RAAF plane during a surveillance mission just over a week ago.
Australia is also chairing the Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 countries responsible for more than 25 per cent of the world’s agricultural exports.
Farrell chaired a meeting of the group’s ministers where the coalition agreed to champion agricultural reform in the WTO.
“In the midst of the worst food security crisis in decades, agriculture remains the most protected and distorted sector in the world,” Farrell said.
“More transparent and predictable trade flows are crucial to ensuring access to food and essential agricultural products.”
The ministerial conference runs until June 15.
– With AAP & Reuters
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