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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 929


Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (11:01): I rise to speak on the Fair Trade (Australian Standards) Bill presented to this chamber by Senator Madigan and I acknowledge his work and endeavours to ensure that the integrity of everything coming to this country is maintained to a standard which we expect in our business community and, indeed, the broader community.

I will address a number of things Senator Madigan raised. I too have an aspiration to ensure that the people from whom we import goods enjoy a reasonable workplace and a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. But to sanction them would be to prejudice them and I fear we have to try to find a balance in there that would give them the opportunity to rise above their Third World status and ensure that we can provide them with trading opportunities which would change their fate more in accordance to what we aspire for them.

Free trade agreements in the context of the society in which we live are good things. I know from my background—the wine industry—that we aspire and seek a speedy resolution as to the trading agreements with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These are going on and will provide us access to those Asian markets from which we have been denied. We have been shown by our cross-Tasman partners in New Zealand the benefits of free trade agreements with those big trading nations. I would say they are probably flogging us in that particular area—but not only with the wine industry; from where I come from we have just seen a resumption of trade in kangaroo meat to Russia. That also was a sensitive negotiation but an essential one.

The providores of game meats in South Australia are looking for opportunities to send game to all parts of the world, and free trade agreements are good for that. There is even a dearth of camel meat around the world and Australia has some opportunity in that respect which would be ably assisted by free trade agreements being concluded as quickly as possible. Senator Madigan spoke of the South Australian firm that builds car hoists and that, indeed, is an issue which they will have to face from the point of view of innovation. I also take him to that icon of Australian backyards: the Hills hoist. Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, as a South Australian you would be well aware that the Hills hoist has had to reinvent itself somewhat. That business's manufacturing is largely domiciled in China and it is now an importer of products of that icon. Therefore, innovation is essential to remain relevant in the marketplace of a global nature.

The other thing that this bill implies is that we have some influence on regulation by governments in other countries when their regulations do not apply to their industrial sector. I understand the sentiment, Senator Madigan, and I think it is a noble one but I know from my dealings prior to coming to this place that trying to impose our level of regulation on other countries meets somewhat with bemusement. But I agree the aspiration should be there.

In short, I know and understand the problem you are looking to address but this bill in every respect sends the wrong message to the world and right now it is a blunt instrument. I hope that the work that both you and I continue to do in the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee—more particularly, with trade—in the inquiries that we have coming up means that we can address the issues which you are looking to essentially set in stone here. This bill—'A Bill for an Act to provide for certain minimum standards for products imported into Australia under a trade agreement'—I contend is probably an unnecessary burden on the current series of Australian trade negotiations.

All Australians benefit from trade. An increase in trade creates more Australian jobs and delivers more opportunities for Australian businesses. Australia has a two-way trade in goods and services and that trade was worth $616 billion in 2012. It is a vital component of Australia's economic prosperity. Last week it was mentioned that within five years the Asia-Pacific region would be the world's largest producer and consumer of goods and services. By 2030, the figure of 500 million people now located in the region's middle class is expected to grow and reach a staggering 3.2 billion souls. Exporting to Asia is a highly competitive environment and the opportunities will not just fall into our lap. We need to do all we can to support our developing and thriving international trade industry, not only in the Asia-Pacific region but worldwide. We need to be innovative and we need to be responsive to emerging needs. However, the bill does not best place us to be at the forefront of facing current trade challenges.

We have many success stories of Australian businesses, something we should celebrate and continue to maintain. Especially with so many hindering factors contributing to trade negotiations—cultural and language barriers, different regulatory systems and ways of doing business combined with the problem of accessing finance and finding distribution channels—we do not need further red tape making way for unnecessary barriers that hinder Australia's economic prosperity. If we talk about free trade agreements, they should be recognised for what they are. They are agreements about making international trade easier and more efficient while preserving the ability to regulate domestically. This bill certainly does not do that.

Across the globe, there is an expanding network of free trade agreements and they play an important role in supporting global trade liberalisation. Through engaging in free trade agreements Australia enters into legally binding commitments to liberalise access to other markets for goods and services and further address issues such as intellectual property rights, government procurement and competition policy. Of course, such agreements fit within the boundaries set by the World Trade Organization to support global trade liberalisation. Free trade agreements help Australian exporters access new markets and expand trade in existing markets.

However, this bill would require Australia to provide less favourable treatment to goods imported from free trade agreement partners than the treatment given to the goods from the other countries. This would have a huge effect on the Australian economy as Australia currently has seven free trade agreements in force. These are with New Zealand; Singapore; Thailand; the US; Chile and the Association of South-East Asian Nations, ASEAN—and that is with New Zealand and Malaysia. These countries covered by these free trade agreements account for 28 per cent of Australia's total trade.

Australia is also currently engaged in nine free trade negotiations. There are five bilateral free trade agreement negotiations—with China, Japan, Korea, India and Indonesia—and four plurilateral free trade negotiations with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Pacific Trade and Economic Agreement, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. You must admit that is a very busy space. I know that the Abbott coalition government has given this the priority it deserves after six years of its collecting cobwebs.

The countries covered by these negotiations account for a further 45 per cent of Australia's trade. The last thing Australian business needs is an unnecessary roadblock to trade negotiations. It is vital we continue to take into account those rules established by the World Trade Organization to ensure that we do not face issues arising from political and protectionist pressures in other countries. We must ensure that internationally agreed standards are encouraged, that products from complying countries are not discriminated against and that unnecessary barriers to trade do not develop. Furthermore, we must ensure that importers are not exposed to legal burdens in their own jurisdiction. I spoke about that earlier. Rather, the current status quo should remain and be maintained to ensure that the onus is placed on the importer operating within Australia.

The Abbott government agenda is clear. It is an agenda to promote and assist strong trade negotiation mechanisms. The Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon. Andrew Robb, is participating in the ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization right now in Bali and he is continuing this with advanced high-level Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in Singapore. These are very important meetings for Australians.

The 38th Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting in Bali is a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries committed to agricultural trade reform, including the elimination of trade distorting subsidies and tariffs. Those are the types of negotiations that Senator Madigan should be encouraged by. Minister Robb will have those at the forefront of his thinking and negotiations on behalf of Australian agricultural industries. Agriculture is a key contributor to the Australian economy.

The Cairns conference supports the growth and advancement of Australia's agricultural trade policy interests and provides a means to influence policy reform. It will consider a package of reforms around agriculture, including components relevant to developing countries, as well as trade facilitation, which has the potential to reduce total trade costs for exporters.

Minister Robb and the coalition are committed to resolving trade issues and market access throughout the Asia region. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the most comprehensive free trade agreement currently under negotiation and involves 12 countries responsible for 40 per cent of global GDP, and all trade policy must be developed to support growth through trade. Policy must provide and support opportunity for Australian businesses and exporters, including farmers, manufactures and service providers. Minister Robb has stated that the government is committed to:

…a very ambitious trade and investment agenda and while these areas of policy are indeed international, they are also of course intrinsically linked to our domestic economic fortunes in terms of supporting sustainable growth, businesses, both large and small and most importantly jobs

That is very different to the rhetoric we heard during those six chaotic years of the previous government around free trade agreements, our trading partners and our export opportunities in general.

As I conclude, trade is vital to our national interest and economic prosperity. While I understand the sentiment behind Senator Madigan's bill, it does not advance the interests of Australian consumers or the economy at large. The increasing burden of red tape as a result of poor Labor policy is placing Australian business and our trade sector in a vulnerable position. Regulators must understand that the cost on business of meeting the ever-increasing red tape burden is crippling and singularly the biggest issue I hear at the business forums I attend around this country.

Those on this side of the chamber are working hard to ensure that Australian businesses and the trade sector at large are not hindered through more unnecessary and problematic regulation. Australia has an established regulatory regime to manage product standards and product safety, and any new legislation should only sit in support of helping our economy grow and prosper so that we can remain strong players in an international trade market. This bill has the effect of obliging Australia to adopt import requirements that will place further unnecessary obstacles in front of potential trade opportunities.