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Opposition welcomes asean free trade initiative



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ALEXANDER DOWNER Member fo r Mayo, Shadow Minister fo r Trade & Trade Negotiations

MEDIA 7 92/T9

OPPOSITION WELCOMES ASEAN FREE TRADE INITIATIVE The Federal Opposition today said that it welcomed the decision at the Singapore summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop a free trade area but also called on the Australian Government to obtain assurances from the ASEAN

leaders that the free trade area would not detract from the process of trade liberalisation already under way in the region.

The Shadow Minister for Trade, Alexander Downer, said that an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) would complement the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) process if it developed in a non- discriminatory way and could play a significant role in the evolution of liberal trading arrangements for the region as a whole.

Mr Downer said, "Australia should begin discussions with the ASEAN members to ensure the tariff reforms envisioned for the AFTA members are not discriminatory in any way against countries

outside the free trade agreement.

"If the ASEAN initiative is discriminatory it could mean that some Australian exports to ASEAN countries will encounter very real difficulties.

"However, I am confident ASEAN governments will recognise that trade diversion caused by a discriminatory tariff regime would not only harm outsiders such as Australia but also the ASEAN countries themselves."

The ASEAN Free Trade Area will take effect next January and cover 15 products on which tariffs will be reduced to five per cent over 15 years.

ASEAN leaders have expressed hopes that AFTA will mature into a common market, comparable to the European Community.

Mr Downer said, "Australia's commitment to tariff reductions over the next few years will provide exporting nations, including the ASEAN countries, with greater access to our markets for a range of products, especially manufactured goods which were heavily protected in the past. .

"This is being done on a non-discriminatory basis and the ASEAN countries will continue to receive greater access to our market

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as the process continues, and, indeed, is accelerated under a Coalition Government.

"This process will benefit Australia and the region as a whole and should be complemented by other regional nations opening up their markets on a non-discriminatory basis.

"The ASEAN countries could contribute to this process in a very constructive way by making AFTA consistent with the three pillars of the GATT: non-discrimination, openness and fairness in international trade.

"The Asia-Pacific region should have as an aim one day to embrace all the countries of the region from Japan to New Zealand, China to Canada and the US, and Vietnam to Chile in a free trade

arrangement.

"That would ensure its strength and long-term success."

Mr Downer said that the region's development along these lines was consistent with the Federal Coalition's policy to negotiate a Liberal Trading Arrangement (LTA) for the region.

ends. Adelaide, 28 January 1992.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR TO ARRANGE AN INTERVIEW CONTACT ALISTAIR NICHOLAS ON (06) 277 4720 OR (06) 285 3798 A.H.