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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26243

Senator CHERRY (10:38 PM) —This will be my last contribution to this debate. I want to note for the record that, under this schedule in the agreement, Australia is giving investors from the United States most favoured nation treatment with regard to investment in Australia, and vice versa for us into the United States. Ultimately the benefit is primarily to the US because, whilst the flow of investment from Australia to the United States has risen quite substantially over the last 15 years, there is still a net flow into Australia rather than out. It is important that I also note for the record that the US has not given Australia most favoured nation treatment for farmers and for produce going to the United States. That reflects just how comprehensively dudded our negotiators were on this agreement, because the agreement is so imbalanced against the interests of Australia and against particular sectors of our economy. There are winners and there are losers, and certainly in this particular schedule we see winners—that is, we see US foreign investors getting most favoured nation treatment into Australia while Australian farmers are denied most favoured nation treatment into the US in terms of farming produce.

I note that because, when the President of the United States signed the US free trade agreement last week, just after he said what a wonderful strong leader Australia has in Prime Minister Howard his next comment, which did not make the television news but thank goodness was picked up by The Panel, was, `This is a great deal for US farmers.' I have to agree with that view. I think this agreement is a great deal for the US farmers because their negotiators successfully denied all the hard-nosed negotiating by Minister Mark Vaile. They managed to keep sugar out and they managed to minimise the changes to other produce, as Senator Conroy pointed out earlier. They managed to increase the quota on avocados without actually raising the quarantine restrictions on avocados. Senator Conroy has actually brought his face up from his computer, which is good; I notice that he is voting for this agreement, notwithstanding the problems with avocados and the quarantine system. It certainly disappoints me that when we go from trade minister Mark Vaile, who on the basis of this agreement I would call a dud trade minister, to trade minister Stephen Conroy, if there is a change of government, on the basis of his enthusiasm to pick up this agreement and run with it we will not see any great improvement.

It is pity that we are dealing with a schedule in which the most favoured nation treatment is being extended to capital flows but not to farming flows back across the Pacific Ocean. That disappoints me and it shows that the priorities of this government are to look after the capital end, the big end, of town. It does not really worry about sugar farmers in my home state of Queensland or other categories of farmers who were hoping to get more access to US markets, because those issues are too hard and it does not help in terms of the capital flows, the stock markets and the financial markets, which is what this deal is fundamentally about.