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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19224

Mrs MAY (2:46 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House how the Australian government and Australian companies are helping Iraq restore its economy? What role will trade play in reconstructing Iraq?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the member for McPherson for her question. Obviously, increased trade and investment flows as the Iraqi people take control of their country, and the resources in their country will play a crucial role in the ongoing development of Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

This morning I had the opportunity of meeting with the Hon. Jalal Talabani, the member of the Iraqi Governing Council who was here in the chamber a short while ago, to have a discussion on these issues with regard to the sorts of things that the Australian government and Australia as a nation trading in the region can do with Iraq and the future administration of Iraq. This was the first visit to Australia by an Iraqi political leader since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

During our discussions this morning, Mr Talabani thanked me and the Australian government and people for their participation in the liberation of Iraq. I made it clear to him that the deplorable terrorist attack earlier this week in Baghdad will not deter the coalition or the international community from our shared commitment to help the Iraqi people achieve peace, democracy and economic development. Australia is continuing to work together with the Iraqi people to assist with Iraq's rehabilitation.

We agreed in those discussions that trade and investment will in fact be key drivers in the rebuilding of the Iraqi economy. Mr Talabani said to me that he is keen to see Australian companies build closer ties with their Iraqi counterparts. That is already happening. There are a number of Australian companies that are active in the region that have sought out joint venture arrangements to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq—companies like AWB, Worley, Sagric, GRM, Multiplex and APW have already made contact with their counterparts in Iraq.

As far as the government is concerned, we are providing an Australian expert to act as an adviser in the establishment of an Iraqi trading bank. We are helping to rebuild the Iraqi ministry of trade and are providing agricultural experts, led by Trevor Flugge, to the Iraqi Governing Council to rehabilitate Iraq's agricultural sector. It is well known that we have established a mission headed up by Ambassador Neil Mules in Baghdad. We have a senior trade commissioner at the moment in Kuwait working with Iraqi companies looking to make contact with Australian business. It is interesting to note that Australia has helped feed the people of Iraq by delivering 400,000 tonnes of wheat since hostilities ended.

What we want to see is Iraq governed by Iraqis in a manner that upholds the basic principles of democracy and leads to sustained economic development. We will continue to work on behalf of Australian companies and with Iraqi authorities to see this achieved.