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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21737

Mrs DRAPER (2:52 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House of a recent announcement of the conclusion of negotiations for a free trade agreement with Thailand? What will this agreement mean for jobs in the Australian automotive sector?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I would like to thank the member for Makin for her question and acknowledge her keen interest in the auto sector, particularly in South Australia. It is well known now that, a fortnight ago, we concluded negotiations with the Thai government with regard to a free trade agreement between Australia and Thailand, in a meeting that took place between the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok. The last remaining issues were resolved to put in place what is a comprehensive and very balanced agreement between Australia and Thailand. Interestingly, it will clearly benefit the Australian auto sector and the Australian wine industry. Both industries are very important to the state of the member for Makin and, indeed, your state, Mr Speaker, in terms of the access that we will get into that market.

Thailand is a country of 61 million people. We currently have a two-way trade with them of about $7.25 billion a year. That will be significantly enhanced as a result of this agreement. It will be of particular interest to the member for Makin that, in the area of the auto sector, the agreement allows for the immediate elimination of tariffs on exports from Australia to Thailand of automobiles with engine capacities above three litres. It also allows for elimination of tariffs on export of vehicles in the commercial vehicle fleet into Thailand. It allows for a significant reduction in the tariff on vehicles that have engine capacities less than three litres. In fact, it is a reduction of a tariff of 80 per cent to a tariff of 30 per cent. So, obviously, this is going to secure the jobs of many Australian auto workers. Indeed, in the future, it will prospectively create many more jobs as we are able to penetrate that market.

That point has been borne out by a couple of public comments that have been made recently. One is by the president of Holden Australia, Peter Hanenburger, who said:

I think it's fantastic and shows particularly the vision that government has.

He has also said:

The reduction of these tariffs will offer opportunities for Holden and other Australian car makers and help to build our critical mass of production to protect Australian jobs.

The other comment came from the Australian Labor Party, and it was very welcome. The opposition spokesman for trade, Senator Conroy, said:

Labor welcomes this free trade agreement with Thailand.

It will be of significant benefit to many Australian industries, including cars ...

We welcome that comment from the Australian Labor Party. We certainly look forward to their support in the implementation of this very important agreement and as we negotiate with the United States of America.