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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 820

Senator COLSTON —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and it concerns his recent visit to Latin America. I commend the minister on making an early visit to this important and dynamic region, a region the economic significance of which is being increasingly recognised by industry and the wider Australian community. Could the minister outline to the Senate the key policy achievements of his recent visit? In particular, I would be interested in the minister's impressions of the economic and political reform process in Latin America. Further, what specific initiatives were taken during the visit to promote closer economic engagement between Australia and Latin America, particularly in sectors such as mining, agriculture and telecommunications?

Senator McMULLAN —This area of growing interest is, as Senator Colston correctly outlined, very important for Australia. Trade with Latin America last year was worth $1.5 billion, and it has been growing strongly at 13.6 per cent annually over the past decade. So it is important and of growing significance, and it has been so seen in a bipartisan way by this Senate. A Senate committee, chaired by then Senator Maguire, did a very good job in promoting interest in trade and outlining a number of recommendations, many of which have been reflected in subsequent government actions, and some of which were taken up during the course of the visit. It was, of course, picked up by my predecessor, Senator Cook, who initiated this visit on which I have just been and, if I might say so, even by the National Party, which sent a delegation to that area recently and I appreciated the opportunity to talk with its members before I went there. I thank them for that.

  While I was there we had some productive discussions on a government to government basis, some of which were quite important and some of which, if I get time, I will refer to in response to the latter part of Senator Colston's question. The most important thing in terms of concrete trade outcomes was the activity of the business delegation that travelled with me to the region and, in particular, the focus on mining and telecommunications—which Senator Colston referred to—and food processing and services.

  The timing of the visit was determined by the Expomin—the Santiago mining exhibition, the biggest mining exhibition in Latin America. This time Australia had 34 Australian companies participating. Two years ago it was only six and the expectation is that in two years time it will be about 60. Many of those there did good business and, most importantly, generated significant business opportunities for the future, and the Austrade survey of participants was extremely positive.

  There was a second significant trade event. In Argentina on behalf of Australia I signed a memorandum of understanding which will promote Australia-Argentine relations and, amongst other things, remove obstacles for Australian companies doing business in the mining services and technology field. Flowing from that, an agreement was signed by the Australian Geological Survey Organisation to carry out a contract to survey for minerals in Argentina, which will be of particular importance not only profitably for that company but also for the Australian mining industry.

  While we were there, we were also able to promote—and I am sure all senators would welcome that—Australia as a beachhead or springboard for commercial entry into the dynamic Asia-Pacific market. We had discussions in a number of countries about the possibility of joint activity between Australia and those countries both in Latin America based in those countries, and into Asia based in Australia.

  In the areas Senator Colston referred to there are also some other important initiatives under discussion. There is a very significant Australian interest through BHP in the $6 billion Bolivia-Brazil pipeline project. If that is successful, it will be important for BHP and other countries. There is also significant benefit in telecommunications.

  I want to take the last few seconds to comment on the important issue that Senator Colston referred to about economic and political reform in Latin America. There has been a remarkable transformation, both economically and politically, and great interest in Australia in the reforms, many of which are seen as an example or a model. In many instances the reforms are very similar to those which we have undertaken. It is the success of those reforms which is creating the economic opportunities which the Australian private sector is seeking to take advantage of both in the visit the people concerned made with me on this occasion, and independently.(Time expired)