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Tuesday, 23 November 1999
Page: 12369

Mr McARTHUR —I direct my question to the Minister for Trade. Can the minister inform the House of new export opportunities for Australia's automobile component manufacturers likely to flow as a result of the minister's trade mission to Thailand last week?

Mr VAILE (Trade) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. I think that every member of this House recognises the interest that the member for Corangamite has always shown in Australia's automotive industries, particularly as one of Australia's significant exporters. We have seen in recent times some quite extraordinary results as far as the export of Australian automotive pro ducts across the world is concerned, particularly into South America and into the Middle East.

I would like to inform the House that last week, along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I was in Thailand to participate in a joint ministerial meeting with our counterparts in Thailand, Dr Supachai and Dr Surin. As part of that, we took with us a delegation from Australia's automotive industry to conduct a joint automotive working group in Bangkok. The result of that mission was quite extraordinary, given the recent circumstances of the economies in South-East Asia. As a result of the automotive mission that we travelled with, the industry is set to deliver into Thailand additional automotive exports in the order of $40 million over the next 12 months to two years. We have also set up the prospect, as far as Australia's exports are concerned, of supplying gas conversion kits for nearly 1,000 buses to the Bangkok Metropolitan Transit Authority fleet. That has come out of those discussions, with the opportunity to design and construct 175 new gas-powered buses for the new rail feeder service in Thailand.

It was a very successful visit over a couple of days. The automotive delegation was led by the Prime Minister's special envoy for the automotive industry, Mr Ian Grigg, who is doing an excellent job in establishing linkages and facilitating business for the Australian automotive sector. Also, as part of the visit to Thailand, the Thai government has confirmed that from 1 January 2000 it will remove local content requirements from its automotive sector. Of course, whilst we were there both the foreign minister and I, in the bilateral discussions we had with our counterparts, pressed the point with the representatives from the Thai government with regard to the reduction of the automotive tariff barriers that exist in Thailand, and certainly we were given a very good hearing in that regard. We have seen the Thai government reduce dramatically the tariff barriers to a number of products this year. We feel confident that they will also do that in the near future for the automotive industry and that we will see more exports of automotive components and vehicles out of Australia into that all-important market.

A point to finish on is that our Australian automotive industry have achieved these great outcomes under difficult circumstances—a difficult economy and a difficult economic climate in the region. But they have also done it while they are still carrying the burden of Labor's wholesale sales tax. Come the middle of next year they will be doing it with much less burden and they will be much more competitive as a result of the policies of our government.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .