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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 33

Mr JULL (2:37 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. What benefits are to be had by Australia from a free trade pact with ASEAN?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Fadden for his question. But firstly, I take the opportunity to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your election to the high office of Speaker of the House of Representatives—I was not here for the last two days of the previous sitting week. The answer to the member for Fadden's question is very simple: more and better jobs for Australians and Australian exporting industries. That is what the outcome of negotiating a free trade agreement with the 10 ASEAN countries will be. Of course, this has not just happened. It is the result of a lot of hard work by a number of people, particularly through the government's persistent trade diplomacy within the region. We started this process at a meeting of trade ministers in Singapore in 1999.

Opposition member interjecting—

Mr VAILE —Who is that up on the back bench interjecting?

Honourable members interjecting

Mr VAILE —It is a senator. There is a stranger in the House! We started this process in 1999 in a meeting of trade ministers and we have been building on the strength of Australian trade diplomacy within the region. We add this to the architecture of a free trade agreement with Singapore, with Thailand and with the study that we are doing with Malaysia and China at the moment, and it sets us up with great opportunities in the coming years within the region.

We are targeting in terms of strengthening and greater integration economically with the 10 ASEAN countries. Within those 10 countries there is a population of 545 million consumers and a GDP of around $700 billion. An FTA with the ASEAN countries will create jobs in Australia. It will help further expand Australia's exports to the region and, obviously, deepen our economic integration with the region. Regarding the economic relationship, there is already a $43 billion two-way trade relationship with the 10 ASEAN countries and a $46 billion two-way investment relationship. As I say, building upon the other bilateral negotiations that we have concluded in the region, this augurs well for improved exports within our neighbourhood in the east Asian region. An FTA between Australia, New Zealand and the ASEAN countries would complement our already profitable trade agenda in our pursuit of the multilateral outcomes of the Doha Round as well as our bilateral negotiations that have already been concluded, which have been adding their weight to the 1.4 million new jobs that have been created in the Australian economy since our government was originally elected in 1996.

I go back to my starting point, for the information of the member for Fadden. This outcome had its genesis in that meeting in Singapore in 1999 where we moved on to negotiate and conclude a closer economic partnership agreement with the ASEAN countries and things have now culminated in this summit in Vientiane at which the Prime Minister is representing Australia. If the Labor Party had been in a position in government to do this, they would have. They were not and they did not.