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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5629

Mr CREAN (Minister for Trade) (11:08 AM) —I thank the member for Hasluck in relation to her comments about Austrade and support for small business. Let me just say that the EMDG is one of the most important schemes that can be used to help small business. We inherited a very difficult aspect of this scheme. The previous government relaxed the eligibility criteria but did not fund it. In the last two budgets, we funded an additional $50 million a year, which has enabled, in the main, our commitments and the eligibility entitlements under that scheme to be met. But that is not sustainable going forward, and that is why there is legislation currently before the House, with the agreement of the industry, to bring the eligibility criteria back into sync. There is still a deficiency in the funding and that is something that we have to address in an ongoing way, but I am absolutely committed to building security into this scheme for the future. Not only is it important to exporters but it has recognised, positive effects. It has a multiplier effect in terms of the dollars spent and the dollars returned.

As for small business more generally, the package that the government recently announced and the proceeds of the resource super profits tax will significantly go to assist small business. A reduction in the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 28 per cent will be a huge advantage for them, and there is the up-front $5,000 deduction. We are in the process of rethinking the whole TradeStart mechanism on the ground. The targeted mechanisms that you have talked about in terms of women are all part of where I am trying to get Austrade focused in a more strategic outward looking way. It is the reason we have developed Brand Australia, and under the new CEO I have been talking to successful businesses about getting more interaction in a strategic way—and I had that opportunity at an export awards last night. Through the ASEAN free trade agreement that I talked of before, for example, we can open a whole matrix of opportunities for trade liberalisation country by country and target strategic approaches into those countries by Australian exporters, who have the quality good or the quality service they want to get into those markets.

Can I turn to comments that the member for Wide Bay made in relation to some of these FTAs. Firstly, China is difficult because agriculture like in all of these agreements remains a problem. We have demonstrated through the ASEAN free trade agreement the ability to deal with the sensitivities of agriculture and still conclude an agreement. Despite the difficulties in China, we just have not focused attention on advancing the trade links through the FTA. We have developed what I have referred to as the second-track approach—going out and visiting the regions, concluding MOUs with regional authorities, whether it is the city government or the provincial government. We have signed four of these MOUs in exciting areas such as urban development, logistics, agribusiness and even automobiles. We are not standing still or being constrained by having to conclude the framework agreement, as important as that will be in defining the future direction.

Secondly, the new government of Japan is very committed to concluding an FTA with Australia. I was recently in Japan and the foreign minister said that the cabinet’s position, including the new Prime Minister’s, is that one of their key priorities is to conclude an FTA with Australia. On the TPP, I think the member for Wide Bay should really understand what the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is about. It is a building block to the free trade area for the Asia-Pacific. It is the getting together of eight like-minded countries that have FTAs but are quality FTAs to lay the foundation upon which we say, ‘If anyone else in the APEC region wants to join, they have to join on those terms.’ Already, we have had significant interest by other countries. So the member for Wide Bay needs to understand not the simplicity of his interpretation but the potential that this new mechanism has. Our officials are in the middle of discussions about it this week in San Francisco. I think this can be a very significant advancement in the APEC region.