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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23425

Mr HUNT (2:35 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House how the government's close relationship with the United States has helped protect the jobs of Australian steelworkers in plants throughout Australia, such as BlueScope Steel in Hastings?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Flinders for his question. The member for Flinders played an active role—along with other government members—in our advocacy of change when, early in 2002, the US administration applied some safeguard measures to Australian exports of steel to the United States. A prohibitive tariff was placed on all steel imports into the United States, including those from Australia; but, through a process of positive engagement and diplomacy, with the assistance of many members of the government, like the member for Flinders, we managed to convince the Bush administration to exclude the overwhelming majority of Australia's steel exports to the United States from those safeguard tariffs.

In fact, as a result of that advocacy, over 85 per cent of our exports have from the outset been excluded from the impact of those tariffs. That has secured the jobs of many Australians—like those who work for BlueScope Steel, formerly BHP Steel—in factories across Australia and in the member for Flinders' electorate. It allowed the Australian steel industry to continue to trade into the United States, which is a very important export market for them. That has helped to maintain the jobs and support the families of those steelworkers, and it has supported the communities where those factories exist.

We hear news this week, which I am sure all members of the House would be pleased to hear, that the Bush administration is considering repealing the balance of these safeguard measures—repealing the tariffs completely. That would eliminate all tariffs from all Australian steel products going into the United States. I need to underline that point—that the US decision regarding Australian steel in 2002 demonstrated our ability in an unprecedented way, through diplomatic means and positive engagement, to achieve an outcome that had never been achieved before in a trade circumstance where there had been a prohibitive trade measure put on Australian product going into a country, particularly into the United States. As I said, our government have embarked upon a diplomatic exercise of positive engagement with the United States, and that is reaping rewards. We will continue to work with industry and with our counterparts in the US. I had the opportunity last week of meeting with the Secretary of Commerce, Don Evans, on this exact issue, and that is bearing fruit in the early stages and certainly with the prospect of the tariffs being removed.

It is important to note that we believe the best way to get quick results and the best results is through positive, constructive engagement in our diplomatic relations. That has proven to be the case and it has delivered results for Australians, particularly Australian workers in the steel industry. It goes without saying that the negative, abusive approach to our bilateral relationships, particularly with the United States, does not work and it will never work. Hopefully, the new Leader of the Opposition, the member for Werriwa, will curb his ways and curb his tongue on these measures. Our international diplomatic relations are very important—and none is more important than our relationship with the United States, especially for the workers of Australia, who rely on it for a lot of the exports we sell across the world.