Australia: Cutting red tape while ensuring quality control – rising to the challenge of export law reform

The regulatory regime for Australia's agricultural exports needs to be both efficient and effective.  Effective, to ensure that Australian exported goods meet the high quality standards for which our products are renowned.  Efficient, to ensure that Australian exporters can be competitive in international markets, including emerging markets. 

The regulatory system at the moment is overly complex.  Currently, exports are regulated under 22 different Acts and the further regulatory instruments made under those Acts.  

In recognition of the current regulatory complexity, the Commonwealth Government is in the process of reforming Australia's agricultural export legislation. 

Reform process 

The first phase of the reform process was completed in September 2015. During that phase, the Department of Agriculture consulted with industry representatives, exporters, State governments, trade partners and other stakeholders, to discuss the strengths of the current legislative regime and how it could be improved. As part of that consultation process, the Department released a discussion paper, and stakeholders were invited to make submissions on the paper. Following completion of this phase of the process, in December 2015 the Government re-affirmed its commitment to improving export legislation. 

The second phase of the reform process has now commenced, and will involve the development and implementation of improvements to the legislation. 

Direction of reform 

The Commonwealth Government's intention is to develop a more flexible and efficient regulatory regime. This will include making the rules governing exports easier to apply, and introducing new mechanisms to improve compliance and enforcement. 

No draft legislation has been released yet, so the details of the proposed reforms are not yet public. However, the Government has indicated that the reforms will include the creation of a simpler legislative structure for the regulation of exports by creating a single set of requirements for exporters, which can be applied flexibly depending on the commodity. 

Another area that will be subject to reform is the Department of Agriculture's oversight of the export supply chain. The Government intends that the Department will retain this role, to ensure importers maintain confidence in the integrity of the exported products. Therefore, the Department will still be involved with site inspections and audits, and in the issuing of certificates that certify that regulatory requirements have been met. However, the reforms will clarify the legislative provisions related to these activities. 

The Government has also indicated that the reforms will introduce new enforcement tools, to strengthen compliance with the export regulations. Authorized officers currently have a range of powers with respect to monitoring, investigation and enforcement. Mechanisms such as infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and civil penalties will be introduced to provide additional opportunities for enforcing export rules.   

In addition to reviewing Australia's export legislation, the Department of Agriculture is also undertaking reviews into its cost recovery arrangements, livestock export certification, and the allocation and administration of quotas. The results of these reviews will be incorporated into the new export legislation.

According to the Government, the development of the improvements to export legislation will take several years. It intends to complete the reform process before 2020, when some delegated legislation that currently regulates exports will expire. Stakeholders will have more opportunities to have input into the reform process as it progresses.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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