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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16414

Mr McARTHUR (4:02 PM) —I have delight in supporting the member for Cook's very good motion. I have a longstanding interest in free trade for Australia and the world. This particular free trade agreement with the USA is a step in the right direction, although I would also advocate a freeing up of world trade under the WTO. Free trade with the USA is a chance to seek access to the world's largest economy and our major investment partner. The agreement is seeking to get market access for Australian farmers and other exporters, particularly in beef, dairy, sugar, utilities, fast ferries, magnesium, canned fruit, services and telecommunications.

I know that the dairy industry are making representations tomorrow in seeking access to the US market, because they feel they have been excluded because of internal tariff barriers. The sugar industry likewise has been facing difficulties because of the heavy lobbying capacity in the US. It is well known that beef has been excluded on many and various grounds, due to the undue political influence of the Midwest. The cotton and peanut industries also suffer. There is a tariff on wool, horticultural products, wheat, gluten rice and vegetable oils—not to mention the high levels of domestic agricultural support by the US Congress. The Jones Act on industrial goods prevents imports of shipping and shipbuilding materials and that is part of the reason for the lack of access for the high-speed ferries.

I would like to quote, in the short time available, from a very good paper given by Gary Banks, the Chairman of the Productivity Commission. It is called `Gaining from trade liberalisation: some reflections on Australia's experience'. The paper was given under the heading `New horizons in trade: the WTO round and Australia's free trade negotiations'. In it, Mr Banks makes the comment that as a consequence of the effective cut in assistance for manufacturing here in Australia:

... from almost 25 per cent in the mid-1980s to 5 per cent today ...

Australia has played its part in being a more liberal trader in its own right in a domestic sense. He then goes on to say:

As well as dismantling import barriers Australian governments have undertaken a comprehensive program of pro-competitive reforms across the economy, including in utilities and other infrastructure and in labour market deregulation ... For a start Australia's exports and imports as proportion of GDP are now one-third higher than they were in the mid-1970s.

We can see from Mr Banks's paper that world trade and access to other markets and reducing our own tariff barriers has improved our own productivity and our standard of living. He goes on to say that unilateral reform has been the main source of benefit:

Australia of course has not been alone in reducing barriers to imports. For example, the average tariff levels for manufactured goods in industrialised countries have fallen from over 40 per cent after World War II to 4 per cent today. However, unlike the liberalisation efforts of Europeans and North Americans, most of Australia's liberalisation has been unilateral, undertaken voluntarily rather than in return for reciprocal `concessions' from other countries.

So we see that Australia has a good track record in opening up its trade, reducing tariff barriers and ensuring that it has acted in good faith and in its own interest, contrary to what is said in a lot of the politics at the electorate level. In terms of the AUSFTA treaty, Mr Banks goes on to say:

For example, among issues identified in the context of the AUSFTA, I see no reason why we should not provide an undertaking to review our current arrangements for quarantine, government procurement, statutory marking anti-dumping, foreign investment and even the PBS.

What Mr Banks is saying is that, in order to act in a bona fide way on the FTA, we should look at our own tariff arrangements and our own internal barriers, to make sure that in our own interest we are looking at them over time and that we can review our arrangements and make sure that Australia is a good citizen in world trade liberalisation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is therefore adjourned and will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.