Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 326


Mr HOLLIS —My question is directed to the Treasurer. Can the Treasurer inform the House of developments since last November's APEC leaders meeting regarding closer regional dialogue and cooperation on issues relating to economic and financial policy?


Mr WILLIS —As I have been saying in recent days, this government has been instrumental in changing the Australian economy and transforming it from a rather closed, inefficient economy to an open, highly competitive—internally and externally—economy and one which is now very much internationally competitive and much more a part of the trading world. This transformation has been behind much of the good news for the economy in recent times. This has gone hand in hand with a determination to face up to the economic and political realities imposed by our geographic location and to take advantage of Australia's proximity to the world's most dynamic economic region, east Asia.

  Average growth of the Asian economies over the last five years has been 5 1/2 per cent, compared with 2 1/2 per cent for the OECD. So it is clearly far more economically dynamic. By locking our exports increasingly into that region, we have been able to maintain an export performance much better than would otherwise have been the case. Our exports to South-East Asia have been growing at an average rate of over seven per cent.

  Merchandise exports to east Asia, excluding Japan, have increased from 19 per cent in 1982-83 to 33 per cent last year. Together with Japan—around 25 per cent of exports go to Japan—the east Asia region now accounts for over half of all of our exports, almost 60 per cent. That is just our merchandise exports. If we look at our service exports in the area of tourism, for instance, we can see that there has been a vast increase in the amount of service export income coming from tourists from the Asian region. They account for almost half of the visitors to Australia now, compared with a quarter less than a decade ago.

  This orientation towards the economy of the Asian region which is so beneficial to us has been reflected in a deliberate effort by the government to foster a closer engagement in the Asia-Pacific region on all fronts—political, cultural and economic. Australia's participation in APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, has of course been a central part of this process. In that connection I am pleased to be able to indicate that in recent days I have accepted an invitation from the US Treasury Secretary, Mr Bentsen, to attend a conference of APEC finance ministers in Hawaii on the 18th and 19th of next month. The agreement to convene such a meeting was an important outcome of the very successful APEC leaders summit held in Seattle in November of last year.

  I would like to say, particularly on this day, which is the last day in this House as a member of this parliament for my predecessor, the honourable member for Fremantle, that this conference is the culmination of a major diplomatic effort by Australia, most particularly by the honourable member for Fremantle in his capacity as Treasurer, to extend and strengthen APEC ties in the area of economic and financial policy.

  At the meeting of the Asian Development Bank last year, the former Treasurer hosted an informal gathering of finance ministers from the region to discuss the potential for greater dialogue on such issues. This meeting revealed considerable interest in the possibility of a meeting of finance ministers in the APEC region. Prior to the Seattle leaders meeting, he wrote to all his regional counterparts, not only emphasising the growing importance of trade and investment flows to all the countries in the region, but also underscoring the many economic policy issues and challenges which we have in common and the considerable potential benefit from sharing experiences on these matters.

  The former Treasurer also noted the desirability of taking stock of the existing range of regional and subregional contacts and the potential benefits of a more direct involvement by finance ministers in encouraging a more focused development of these existing contacts. I concur fully with my predecessor's views on the importance of more participation by finance ministers in APEC. The forthcoming meeting—and in particular the positive way in which the current APEC chair, the United States, has adopted this idea—is now providing the necessary political leadership and is therefore very pleasing.

  It is intended that the APEC finance ministers meeting will provide an opportunity to consult freely and openly on the challenges facing the region, including ensuring non-inflationary growth, financing development, infrastructure development and the promotion of capital markets. I assure the House that I intend to pursue participation in this forum with all the vigour that was initiated by my predecessor. The forthcoming meeting will further strengthen the sense of community among Asia-Pacific economies as we seek to build on the successful outcome of the GATT Uruguay Round and look to further enhance the commitment to open trading relations and a cooperative partnership in tackling common problems.