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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1873

Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. The minister has previously emphasised the importance he places on ministerial led trade and investment missions to overseas markets as being at the cutting edge of Australia's national trade effort. Could the minister explain what role these missions play in translating improved market access opportunities into tangible commercial deals? What is the feedback from business on the effectiveness of these missions?

Senator McMULLAN —I thank Senator Childs for his question because it raises the question of the strategic framework within which individual activities, such as trade missions, might be seen. It seems to me that people sometimes criticise particular initiatives because they lack an overall strategic framework. Particular activities, such as trade missions, can be seen to their full effect only if they are looked at in the context of the multilateral and regional activities which provide the framework within which they operate.

  Senator Childs is correct in saying that trade missions constitute the cutting edge or the sharp end of trade policy. They are the element by which the climate setting and opportunity creating activities at the multilateral and regional level are given practical effect and where the activities of the Australian government have direct commercial benefit for Australian business. That is why over the years we have received highly positive feedback from corporate Australia and from various trade and other ministers on these missions.

  The highlights that have been commented upon by business people include access that is given by ministerial trade missions that would not otherwise necessarily be available, opportunities for publicity and networking. Those three activities will be to the fore in, for example, the major business mission that is going to Indonesia next week. Those three opportunities—the access, the publicity and the networking opportunities—explain why around 200 leading Australian companies have signed up to participate in that business mission. It is not a one-way street. We get particular benefit also from the interchange of ministerial missions that come to Australia.

  For example, as some honourable senators will recall, I was able to advise the Senate about the $2.8 billion worth of potential business that resulted from the China trade and investment forums here in Sydney and Melbourne. That mission's success built upon that of its predecessor, led by Senator Cook, to China last year. We will build on it again in a return mission to China in September this year with a smaller niche mission targeted at particular industry market opportunities—

Senator Kemp —What about the Basel convention?

Senator McMULLAN —Ask me a question about that; I would be delighted. The significant success of those two missions we think will be built on by the third. The business community has said that it sees this as a very effective way of the Australian government serving its interests. We appreciate its support and we look forward to continuing to work with it. But we also accept that we need to look at ways to improve, evaluate and build on that success.

  One of the activities our new national board of industry, trade and investment, which Senator Cook and I will constitute, will be looking at is how we can coordinate better the activities of ministers, Special Trade Representative Mr Button and others in providing coordination and getting an even sharper focus and delivering better benefits to the Australian private sector in its attempts to turn the opportunities created by multilateral and regional activities into effective trade results for Australia.