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Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Page: 31329


Mr HUNT (6:24 PM) —I am genuinely delighted to rise in support of the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 in this cognate debate. The Australia-United States free trade agreement hearkens back to the other great bilateral agreement in Australian trade history. In 1957, under the then trade minister, Mr McEwan, Australia negotiated with Japan the Japan-Australia trade agreement. What happened in that agreement was fascinating. In an echo of that which we face today, the then Labor opposition opposed the Japan-Australia trade agreement. It was an extraordinary step at that time, and in retrospect it is even more extraordinary. The consequence if Australia had not signed the Japan-Australia trade agreement would have been an amazing and unbelievable impact on the growth and development of the Australian economy over the subsequent half century.

Now we face the same situation. We have the same opportunity for future generations. We have the same capacity to build jobs, investment and export markets. We have the same opportunity that will allow for the import of goods which will be of value to the Australian economy and to Australian consumers. And we face the same implicit opposition. Half a century from now, the way in which we now look at the Japan-Australia trade agreement and the way in which we look with disbelief at the opposition to it will be exactly the same way in which federal Labor's position today is viewed.

It is surprising and disappointing, because this is genuinely an agreement for the next generation. It is an agreement which will bring to Australia an annual benefit within 10 years of up to $6 billion. It is an agreement which brings into being all of the philosophies which, to be fair, both sides of this House have attempted to pursue over the last 20 years. Both sides of this House have been committed to free trade. We know that there have been important steps forward. We know that there have been imperfections along the way, but there has been a genuine commitment to free trade. What we feel is disappointment and surprise. I had never expected that, on something of such significance and real national import, a position would be taken contrary to the long-term national interest. That is a surprise.

In looking at this agreement and bill, I want to focus on three aspects. Firstly, it is a bill and agreement for future generations. It does not deliver everything, but it delivers an enormous amount. As we have seen in the report from the Centre for International Economics, there will be a real GDP increase of up to $6.1 billion per year. That increase is of extreme importance to Australian jobs, manufacturers, families and many others. It will have an impact on every phase of Australian life. Secondly, it has an impact on the way in which we carry out our business—whether we are an open society or a closed society, whether we seek to be part of the world or close ourselves off.

What are the benefits that we will obtain for Australia? Firstly, for our manufacturers, over 97 per cent of our manufactured exports to the United States, worth $5½ billion, will be immediately duty-free from day one. Secondly, we will now have access for the first time to the US federal government procurement market of over $270 billion a year. That was something that was not expected when we entered into this agreement. It was not something which was calculated into the benefits; it is something which was delivered. Thirdly, the 25 per cent tariff on light commercial vehicles that previously kept Australian utes out of the US market will be removed immediately. That means jobs for workers in the auto sector, the component sector and the steel sector. So, for Australian manufacturers, whether they be GMH, Ford or BlueScope Steel, there is a real and demonstrable benefit.

In addition to that, for our farmers and food processors, about 66 per cent of agricultural tariffs with the United States will go to zero immediately. So 66 per cent, or two-thirds, of the tariffs on our agricultural exports to the United States will disappear, with a further nine per cent, or three-quarters, of the tariffs disappearing within four years. Our beef quota, currently 378,000 tonnes, will be substantially increased. It will grow by 18½ per cent over 18 years, thereby achieving effectively free trade. It is a $100 million benefit to Australian beef producers in the first year.

I know that, within my own electorate of Flinders, Tabro Meats, which employs many people, will receive a significant benefit. There will be real jobs on the ground for real businesses with a real impact. That is what is important. In addition, the dairy industry will receive a significant benefit. Our export of dairy products to the US, currently worth around $36 million, is likely to increase by around $55 million in the first year and build from there into a very lucrative trade for our industry. It is the same for avocados and wheat and cereal flour mixes. The wool, wine, peanut and seafood industries all benefit.

Yes, in many of those we would have liked more, but this is an across-the-board set of improvements for Australia's manufacturing, services and agricultural sectors. No, sugar is not part of it. Yes, we would have liked sugar to have been part of it. No, there is no reason why that should prevent the deal going ahead. This is an extraordinary step forward. If we can take three out of four steps, we should take the deal—there is no doubt about that.

Here I come to the second point in this speech. To say no, as the opposition effectively set out in early February, is to say no to jobs in the manufacturing sector, the steel industry and the automotive industry. It is to say no to jobs for ordinary Australians in the agricultural export sectors, whether that is in Blue Scope Steel or GMH, and in many other parts of the country. It is saying no to jobs in all of those areas. On that front I believe that this should go ahead. I want to make the point that, above all else, I believe that the Labor Party will accept this deal. They have opposed it so far, and they have played games with it, but, above all else, it should be accepted. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hockey) adjourned.