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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2341

Mr LAWLER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Minister, in the light of the release today of the government's Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement, could the minister outline what initiatives the government is taking to secure Australia's trading future?

Mr TIM FISCHER —I thank the member for Parkes for his question and reflect on the fact that he already capably represents such centres as Dubbo with Roger Fletcher, Parkes with IMC and Broken Hill—all good exporting centres adding to our export progress and the further expansion of our exports to the world. I am delighted to affirm an announcement that there will be further trade diversification efforts bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally, with working visits to Iran and, I announce now, to Turkey as well, commencing at the end of the next parliamentary sitting week. As Minister for Trade, I will lead a delegation comprising senior personnel from Austrade and Australian business.

Secondly, I will be introducing legislation in this Autumn session of parliament to extend the Export Market Development Grant scheme for another two years, involving $300 million. Thirdly, the government will launch in May a major new study on the prospective economic benefits of a millennium round. Fourthly, for the first time we are going to invite public submissions to help refine our World Trade Organisation negotiating agenda, to build confidence and to connect with the Australian constituency in relation to these trade issues. We recognise fully there is no such thing as a level playing field and, therefore, we have a very hard-edged pragmatic trade policy approach. Fifthly, a new study is to be prepared on agrifood export opportunities to the Asian region. Finally, I will be launching two new reports on the government's online trade strategy—electronic commerce represents so much potential for Australia, not just capital city Australia but isolated parts of Australia as well—when I attend with the member for Indi at Wangaratta on Friday. I look forward to doing that.

I point out to the House that, last year, 17 of our major trading partners have had a massive contraction of GDP—it has come down into negative growth—whereas Australia has remained with a positive growth of plus five per cent. We are maintaining a strong domestic economic base, which is allowing our exporters to cut the mustard and get the job done. As I present the Trade—Outcomes and Objectives statement, I make the point that the gold medal in this equation should go to our hardworking exporters, who have done so well in difficult times.