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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20509

Mr PYNE (2:38 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House of the importance of the free trade agreement being negotiated between Australia and the United States? How does Australia's pursuit of free trade agreements relate to our role at the World Trade Organisation?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question. The member for Sturt, coming from South Australia, would recognise that the FTA we are negotiating with the United States is of significant importance to all Australians for the future generation of economic growth and wealth in Australia, particularly in South Australia, given that a lot of Australia's auto industry is located there—up in your part of South Australia, Mr Speaker—as well as the great Australian wine industry. I understand that the United States is almost about to pass, if it has not already passed, the United Kingdom as Australia's No. 1 destination for wine exports.

The question was about the importance of what we are negotiating. It gives us an opportunity to pursue bilaterally what we might not be able to achieve multilaterally. We know that historically the Australian Labor Party has preferred to have all its eggs in the one basket, and it still holds this view. It just wants to focus on the multilateral agenda and continue to pursue that. As a government, we have not been prepared to take the risk of that going on the slow track as it did last week in Cancun. Interestingly, we had a representative of the Labor Party in Cancun. We took a broad based delegation, and a representative of the Labor Party was with us. Of course, he was back in the parliament yesterday saying that it was a failure of the government's trade policy that Cancun stumbled last week. If the charge is the government looking after the national interest, then we are guilty as charged. We remember that the outcome of the Uruguay Round—and mind you, Mr Speaker, there were at least two meetings that stumbled during the Uruguay Round—was not a fantastic deal for Australian farmers.

Mr VAILE —It was done by the Labor Party. The President of the NFF, the National Farmers Federation—

Mr VAILE —put the cap on this when he said—and this is in response to the allegations made by the Labor Party:

While we were frustrated and disappointed, at the end of the day a situation where we don't get a result is better than being faced with a bad result.

That was a direct reference to what came out of the Uruguay Round of negotiations.

Mr McMullan —They supported the Uruguay Round!

The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser chooses to defy the chair!

Mr VAILE —It was a bad result for Australia's farmers. We are not prepared to pursue a bad result just to get a result in the negotiations. If it takes more time and more energy to get a decent result out of the multilateral agenda, we will do it. But at the same time we have the ability to pursue negotiations bilaterally that will deliver early benefits to Australia's exporters.

At the outset of our government's policy position on this, we did have some support from the Labor Party. The then shadow spokesman, Senator Cook, and the then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, supported the concept in principle of pursuing a free trade agreement with the United States. The member for Rankin, when he became the shadow minister, then led the Labor Party right off the field on this issue. We live in hope that the new spokesman on trade, Senator Conroy, might bring the Labor Party back on track to help deliver an outcome that will deliver benefits and jobs to many Australians.