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Wednesday, 22 May 1996
Page: 1082

Mr LINDSAY —My question is also directed to the Minister for Trade. Are you aware that in 1994-95 the Labor government allowed export growth to Japan, which is Australia's most important export market, to decline to 2.3 per cent, which was a significantly slower growth rate than the trend rate of 7.6 per cent over the past decade? What steps will you be taking to address this drift evident under Labor and promote Australian trade with Japan and the region?

Mr TIM FISCHER —We are losing market share in Japan, our largest trading partner. I thank the member for Herbert for his very timely question, this being the 100th anniversary year of the establishment by Japan of a consular office in Townsville.

As part of a hectic visit to Japan and Indonesia last week, I pursued a number of trade policy issues to seek to make further advances with trade liberalisation, some of which were commenced by the former Minister for Trade, and I acknowledge that. With regard to regional issues, I am pleased to advise the House that both the Japanese government and the Indonesian government have reiterated their commitment to the individual action plan process of APEC. Those plans in draft form are heading to the officers' meeting at Cebu which will take place this week.

With regard to multilateral issues, both senior officials and ministerial officials of the Japanese government and the Indonesian government again committed themselves to the process of liberalisation with regard to the WTO round. Australians have legitimate concerns over questions of backsliding on agriculture, on completing the unfinished agenda of the Uruguay Round. These are matters which I pursued at various levels and, indeed, obtained some clarification on as we build towards the December Singapore summit, the first ministerial round following the signing of the Uruguay Round at Marrakech.

On bilateral issues, as part of addressing the market share circumstance, a number of breakthroughs were achieved. Members opposite might like to recall that the Japanese economy is 14 times the size of the Australian economy. It has seven times the population and is 14 times the GDP size. It is one which offers very good opportunities for a very diverse range of Australian exporters in respect of rice, high-tech ferries, expanding legal services and the like. All of these matters were pursued, including the opening of a home building model village which reflects the increase in building material exports to Japan and which I was very happy to promote during my visit.

The somewhat dismissive attitude to two of our key Asian trading partners marks the Labor Party down again in terms of their track record. During the visit I was able to announce, in liaison with the Minister for Transport and Regional Development, a 38 per cent boost in air services between Australia and Indonesia. Once again we have it right in terms of spreading it around, away from Sydney, with 10 ports of entry being granted. In relation to that boost to air services, I also took the opportunity to officially open a new Qantas office in Indonesia.

All in all, the coalition government is about a systematic set of regional working visits to further boost our trading circumstance, our export performance and the diversity of Australian exports. Those opposite might joke about this but let me remind them that it was under their government that Australia started to lose market share in some of our key export trading nations.