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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 17678

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:01 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House how a free trade agreement with the United States would create jobs and economic growth in Australia? What has been the level of support from the community and the business sector?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Boothby for his question and take the opportunity of reminding the House that, when I met President Bush in the United States last month, we both agreed to conclude the negotiation towards a free trade agreement between Australia and the United States by the end of this year. That is a very ambitious timetable but it reflects the very strong commitment of both the Australian government and the Bush administration to concluding such an agreement. A high-quality free trade agreement between Australia and the world's largest and strongest economy will be of unqualified benefit to this country in the years ahead.

I was reminded of just how valuable a free trade agreement would be when I read yesterday a paper prepared by Stephen Roach, the chief economist of the New York based bank Morgan Stanley. He made the point that since 1995 the world has had only one real engine of economic growth, and that has been the United States. He pointed out that, over the seven-year period ending in 2001, the US economy accounted for fully 63 per cent of the cumulative increase in world GDP while over the same period of time the European Union—a region of comparable size to the United States—accounted for only eight per cent of the increase in world GDP. So over that period of time 63 per cent of the growth in world GDP was accounted for by the United States while Europe, by contrast, accounted for only eight per cent but is of comparable size.

This is the market—this is the opportunity—that the federal Labor Party would apparently deny Australia. It is the policy of the federal Labor Party, as articulated by the member for Rankin, not to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. I cannot think of anything more calculated to deny this country an opportunity of being part of the fastest growing economic entity in the world—the one that, more rather than less, will bulk large in the future of this country.

What the member for Rankin is saying is in stark contrast to what some successful Labor people in Australia are saying. For example, the Premier of New South Wales has said, `It is in Australia's interest to link ourselves with the world's most dynamic and creative economy.' The Premier of South Australia has said, `An FTA would give us access to 280 million customers.' The Premier of Victoria recognises potential benefits for the Victorian economy through increased access to markets and improved investment flows. And the Premier of Queensland has said, `An FTA could be the most momentous boost for our primary industries in 100 years.'

Those are the words of successful Labor leaders. By contrast, those who represent the Australian Labor Party in this place are so ignorant of, and indifferent to, the opportunities for the Australian economy that they set their faces against this opportunity. The government will continue to negotiate to achieve a free trade agreement. If we can achieve it on proper terms, it will do more than any other single act to underwrite the economic future and economic security of this nation well into the 21st century.