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Under Australian tariff policy, protection is afforded essential Australian industries, and preferential treatment is granted to imports from certain Commonwealth countries. Customs duty is levied also for revenue purposes. Some modification of the preferential-treatment policy has been made by Australia, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the mid-1990s, the value of goods imported exceeded the value of exports.
The leading purchasers of Australia's exports are Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, the United States, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and Indonesia. In addition, new markets are being developed in Asia for Australian wheat and other surplus commodities. Major suppliers of imports are the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, China, and New Zealand. Principal exports included metal ores, coal, gold, nonferrous metals, meat and meat products, textile fibers (mainly wool), petroleum and petroleum products, and cereals. Leading imports were road vehicles and other transportation equipment, machinery, office equipment, petroleum and petroleum products, and textiles. In 1998 imports were valued at $64.7 billion, exports at $55.9 billion. Australia is also an important exporter of agricultural and medical research services, especially to the wider Asian region.