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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 789

Senator CARR —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. The minister would be aware that, in releasing yesterday's report of the APEC Eminent Persons Group entitled Achieving the APEC vision—free and open trade in the Asia-Pacific, Australia's representative on the EPG described APEC as `the single most important initiative for Australia's security and prosperity'. How is this claim justified? In view of the high priority the government attaches—and should attach—to APEC, what contribution will the EPG report make to securing the long-term future of APEC?

Senator McMULLAN —It is a very important issue that Mr Wran raised yesterday and that Senator Carr raises here this afternoon. I will be seeking to make copies, at least of the executive summary of the report, available to all senators and members, because I think this is an important issue about which many members have a serious and continuing interest.

  It is not surprising that the government and Mr Wran regard APEC as a very high priority. It is a region that accounts for 75 per cent of Australia's exports. The report of the Eminent Persons Group that Mr Wran was involved with, the release of which he was involved with in Australia yesterday, will serve to very much reinforce the role of APEC at the centre of the future for the Asia-Pacific.

  This report of the EPG, Achieving the APEC vision, presents challenging and specific proposals to Australia and Australians and the rest of the region on how the long-term vision of free trade in the Asia-Pacific might be achieved. It proposes a blueprint for trade liberalisation in APEC, it charts a strategic course into the next century and it recognises that trade and investment liberalisation will play a big role in determining the region's economic success well into the next century—2020, they are talking about. It is also a contribution to the role of APEC in capitalising on that web of political and economic relations that are developing in the region.

  This is not the only proposal that will go to leaders at their meeting in November about the prospects for APEC. There will also be a report from the Pacific Business Forum, an initiative Mr Keating took last year at Seattle, where the business leaders from around the region will also be making a report. We expect those two reports together to challenge the APEC economies to cooperate more closely, more intensively and across an increasingly broad spectrum of issues.

  While it is a major challenge for us all, it has the potential to deliver immense dividends for regional prosperity. The centrepiece of the report is its proposal for free trade in APEC within the region by the year 2020. If this goal could be achieved within the timetable they have set out or otherwise, it would substantially add to the economic growth of the region and, therefore, the economic opportunities for Australian business and the job opportunities for Australian citizens. So it is a very important report. It sets out important principles about encouraging unilateral liberalisation, about a commitment to reduce barriers to non-APEC countries, about the possibility of extending benefits of APEC liberalisation to non-member countries and, of course, about leaving it open to APEC members to extend their liberalisation to non-members. It makes a number of practical proposals also about enhancing trade and investment flows—so-called trade facilitation.

  It is a report that we warmly welcome and with which we are very impressed. We support strongly the report's recommendations about setting a target date for free trade for the region. It has important implications for every Australian. I think it could well deliver very substantial benefits for Australian industry, greatly expanding economic opportunities in the Asia-Pacific. We do not underestimate the challenge it presents to us and to the other economies of the region, but I think it will ultimately come to be seen as representing the interests of each country as well as of the region as a whole. The trade liberalisation thrust that is under debate is important. The EPG report that Senator Carr refers to will make an important contribution to that.