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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6228


Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (7:42 PM) —I would like to ask the Minister for Trade for an update on some of the negotiations on free trade agreements and ascertain just where we are up to with a number of these agreements. Can I first refer to the Gulf Cooperation Council FTA. The minister would be aware that this is of particular importance to us from an Australian perspective, not just because of new trade we might be able to open up but also for defensive reasons, because, if the GCC were to negotiate an FTA with other car-manufacturing countries before Australia, it could have a significant impact on the Australian car industry. Can you give us some advice about the progress of those negotiations? I understand the last round of meetings was held from 24 to 26 February. Are you aware of progress in the GCC’s negotiations with other countries which might give us reason for concern about our car exports to that part of the world?

Turning to Vietnam, I note that in the past the minister was quite vigorous in his criticism—when he was in a different role—about the previous government’s recognition of China’s market economy status. I ask the minister: what is the justification for recognising Vietnam’s market economy status? Were there any studies, reviews or detailed examinations which led you to the conclusion that this was indeed a genuine and open economy worthy of being granted such status? Will there be any antidumping cases lodged in relation to imports from Vietnam that could be affected by this change of status?

Finally, in relation to China, our No. 1 priority trading partner, on 22 September 2008 you said, in a ministerial statement to parliament:

We have unfrozen the China FTA negotiations.

On 20 February 2009 you said:

China needs to come back to the table on a free trade agreement with Australia …

On 14 May, just two weeks ago, you said that the China FTA was:

… stalled at the technical level.

…                     …                   …

We’re not going to go in and negotiate with ourselves. We’ve been doing that for all the rounds up until now.

What is the status of the current negotiations? Has a further round of discussions been scheduled? The Prime Minister said last November that he and President Hu Jintao had:

… agreed to adopt a fresh approach to speeding up the conclusion of this agreement even more.

Has the Prime Minister contacted President Hu again? Or was his statement that he was confident that we can get real progress in the period ahead just a bit of government spin?