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Tuesday, 23 March 2004
Page: 26908


Mr JOHN COBB (3:08 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House of comments in support of the free trade agreement with the United States? Are there any obstacles to the agreement's implementation?


Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the member for Parkes for his question. I acknowledge his recognition of the importance of this agreement to many of his constituents, not just those in the agriculture sector but also those in the manufacturing and service sectors in his electorate, and the opportunities that will be provided to them to access a market of almost 300 million people running an economy that is the biggest economy in the world and the most dynamic economy in the world. Of course, he recognises—and so do his constituents—the importance of seeing the free trade agreement with the United States enter into force by the beginning of next year.

Australia's farmers also want to get access to that market. Nobody would want to miss out on an opportunity to access a market that wealthy and of that size. The farmers in the electorate of Parkes and, indeed, farmers across Australia know this is a good deal. They also know very well that this deal would not be in place and would not have been done under a Labor government or under the leadership of the current Leader of the Opposition, whose anti-American attitude has been well recorded publicly in Australia. They simply know that the deal would not have been done under a Labor government.

A number of commentators have referred to the importance of this agreement to their sectors. I quote Mr John Webster from Horticulture Australia, who said that, before the negotiations began, `only two per cent of fresh Australian horticultural exports came into the US tariff free; now 100 per cent of all major current fresh exports will have zero tariffs'. Allan Burgess, the Chairman of the Australian Dairy Industry Council, said that `for dairies, successful ratification of the Australia-United States free trade agreement will increase access to a huge and expanding market'. Even the American Farm Bureau, the peak farm body in the United States, has indicated that the FTA would benefit Australian farmers in excess of $500 million a year every year after it enters into force. That is an extra $500 million of Australian produce going into the United States market every year.

But again on radio today the Leader of the Opposition was not prepared to support an agreement that is overwhelmingly in the national interest. He was not prepared to support an agreement that is going to deliver some significant benefits to Australia's farmers. The Labor Party should support this FTA on its merits. The Leader of the Opposition should not let his anti-American attitude cloud his view of what is in the national interest. He should not let that cloud his view. The Leader of the Opposition should not be bought off by the unions on this issue. We heard in earlier comments about the very close relationship, financially and otherwise, between the Australian Labor Party and the union movement and how that is delivered upon in this place: by the Australian Labor Party knocking back legislation in the Senate overnight again. I say again: the Leader of the Opposition should not be bought off by the unions on this. Sharan Burrow, Doug Cameron and anti-American Labor MPs should not stand in the way of what is in Australia's national interest.