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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11717

Mr O'DOWD (Flynn) (16:46): by leave—Our committee, the Joint Select Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, has conducted an inquiry into business experiences utilising Australia's existing FTAs. Our committee looked at six FTAs that have been in existence for some time and the experiences that Australian businesses have had in embracing the benefits of the FTAs—or the obstacles they encountered with these FTAs. The findings of the inquiry were useful in informing the government's efforts to promote utilisation of our North Asia FTAs as well as the future use of FTAs currently under negotiation. The six countries we looked at were New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, the USA, Chile and Malaysia. The inquiry did not focus too much on our last three FTAs—Korea, Japan and China—but in some cases there were common issues. We did not look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, currently agreed but still under negotiation and formal acceptance.

Whilst government processes have been very successful in conducting these FTAs, our committee, after reviewing about 45 submissions—either on paper or through evidence given at hearings—came up with 13 recommendations. The first was that DFAT should, in future negotiations, include financial service regulators—we thought that was important. The second recommendation was that the Department of Agriculture should continue to negotiate the fruit-fly-free status of particular regions of mainland Australia. In other words, some parts of Australia are considered fruit fly free but this is not recognised, apart from Tasmania, which is an island state with much cooler temperatures. We thought that was a very important recommendation.

Our third recommendation was that the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme should include all exports that go via sea or air. Our fourth recommendation was to conduct reviews and seminars with target audiences across FTA regions to deliver quicker and more effective communications. We found there was a breakdown in how quickly the information got out, how quickly people could get information, and that was slowing down the process.

Our fifth recommendation was that DFAT ensures that a FTA dashboard is designed for easy access to all FTAs. The thing with that was that with the existing FTAs, the three new FTAs and the 12 countries under the TPP, we thought it will be a maze of confusion if there is not a dashboard set up to handle the inquiries, handle where potential exporters are going to go to for advice. DFAT is working really hard on that dashboard and it will be available very soon. We also thought that 24 hours, seven days a week access to the export document hub was important. Our exporters do not work eight to five, five days a week; it is an around-the-clock enterprise and we thought we, as a government, should have the documentation available for them to use at any time of the day or night.

We recommend that the Export Market Development Grant recognises anti-counterfeiting measures as an expense. Anti-counterfeiting is an issue. People like to purport to have a product that is not entirely what the label says. We recommend DFAT to provide assistance to partner countries to build their capacity to access sanitary and phytosanitary risks. Prior to FTA negotiation by government, industry assistance should be targeted towards exporters who may want a presence in that particular market. For instance, if the cherry growers of Tasmania wanted insight into what our FTA with India might bring in the future, then they should be a very important part of that task force that looks at the free trade agreement with India. The department should develop a workforce strategy to take advantage of these agreements. And we should develop a recognisable Australia brand logo depicting our clean, green energy status. We found that some countries are only too willing to label a product to look similar in colour and packaging to our successful exports. We found this could be addressed by having a specific Australian brand logo to counter that.

We also recommended that DFAT and the trade commission conduct before and after modelling to be made available to the public. In other words: do not keep the public in the dark; bring them in, embrace them in the negotiations so that everyone knows what is going on. Finally, let DFAT involve Australia's peak industry bodies; both employer and employees should be involved in negotiations. I commend this report to the House.