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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16411

Ms JULIE BISHOP (3:51 PM) —I do not know where the shadow trade spokesman has been. He says that there is no information available to the public on the status of these negotiations. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just looked up Australia-US free trade agreement briefing No. 2 of 2003 on the Internet to get an update. This is a comprehensive summary of where the negotiations are up to in this second round. The lead negotiators can be contacted by e-mail by the public. There are details on the DFAT web site, including a full transcript of the conference for Australian media on this topic. The full text of DFAT submissions is available on the Internet, as well as a web page specifically designed for the Australia-US free trade agreement negotiations. The task force can also be contacted by e-mail. As well, the Minister for Trade has made numerous speeches and public statements about the benefits of an Australia-US free trade agreement.

I congratulate my colleague the member for Cook for bringing this motion before the House. Given the status of the current negotiations, it is a timely motion. It gives us the opportunity to restate the objectives of our government and the reasons it is undertaking negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States. It also gives us the opportunity to address some of the myths and to put to rest, or to at least put in context, some of the concerns and criticisms that have been directed at this agreement or to at least challenge the basis or the assumptions upon which these criticisms are made.

Our trade policies are connected to our broader economic, political and security aims. Our trade strategy must reflect our national interest and our national values and aspirations. We have adopted a clear approach in the promotion of free trade. We will promote free trade globally, regionally and bilaterally. It is a policy of competitive liberalisation, embracing trade liberalisation on a bilateral and regional basis, thereby complementing and stimulating multilateral trade liberalisation. We hope to create a web of mutually reinforced trade agreements to meet our economic, commercial and political objectives.

We are not turning our back on the multilateral trade negotiations; we are fully committed to completing the Doha development agenda. But we are realists. We know the Doha agenda is ambitious and we know it will not be easy. There have been very encouraging signs. Networks of trade ministers, in both developing and developed countries, are continuing to work together. In fact, Minister Vaile hosted in Sydney an informal meeting of WTO trade ministers, which I believe reflects Australia's commitment to the Doha round. We view Doha as the best way of pursuing global liberalisation, particularly in the agricultural sector. We will continue to work to reduce global barriers to trade through the WTO. But not all members of the WTO move at the same pace. Any decision of the WTO requires a consensus amongst its 145 members, and any one country can decide whether or not to move forward.

In the meantime, to multiply the likelihood of success of the Doha round, Australia is participating in the drive for regional and bilateral free trade agreements. We are pursuing them because they can foster significant links in the areas of commerce, economic reform, investment, development and security in free societies. We are not being selective. We are not being elitist. We are open to free trade with all regions and with both developing and developed economies. But given the opportunity to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States—the world's largest economy—it is in our national interest to seek access to this gigantic, dynamic American market, and most, if not all, countries in our region would recognise that. In fact, most countries in our region are either involved in or would like to be involved in FTA discussions or negotiations with countries in the region or outside. There are numerous free trade agreement negotiations: with the United States, in the case of Singapore, and apparently South Korea is considering a proposal. Vietnam has concluded a trade agreement with the United States. The United States and ASEAN are looking at a free trade initiative. But there are other free trade agreements being considered across the Pacific, not just with the United States—for example, Japan and Mexico; Korea and Chile; and Singapore with not only the United States but also Canada—but also between the ASEAN countries and China and the ASEAN countries and Japan.

It is a furphy to suggest, as the Labor shadow trade spokesman has, that there are concerns that our negotiations with the US are giving out a signal that Australia is placing less emphasis on our Asian trading partners. That is not the case. Australia enjoys strong bilateral trade links with Japan and China. We have completed an FTA with Singapore and consideration of an FTA with Thailand is under way. Given the recent successful negotiation of the liquefied natural gas contract with China—estimated to be worth around $25 billion; the largest export deal in Australian economic history—the future of trade relations between Australia and China appears bright. I support wholeheartedly this motion. (Time expired)