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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 3029

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (11:34): I rise today to talk on the government's trade agenda—or should I say talk on the government's lack of a trade agenda? I would call on the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, to stop spending his whole day wandering the corridors, propping up this Prime Minister, who is in her death throes, and to focus instead on the national interest and getting some outcomes for Australian exporters and, in particular, our agricultural exporters.

Our agricultural exporters faced a dry year last year, and so far this year they are facing more dry conditions. Times are getting tough, and what they need is better access to markets. Obviously, that can be done in a variety of ways. We have the World Trade Organisation, where you can get the biggest gains, but that is going to take time, and in the short time frame of this year I doubt that we are going to get any real movement there. We have regional agreements: APEC and the newly developing TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Once again, these bodies are important, and the work going on within the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be very important down the track. I must say I was very pleased to see that Japan is keen to get on board, but that is still going to take time.

Bilaterally, we could start getting some real momentum this year on a couple of agreements—with the free trade agreements that we are negotiating with Japan and South Korea. But what is the government doing? It is putting a block in the way of us progressing either of those free trade agreements. We have already seen, as signalled by the new Japanese Prime Minister, that he is prepared to move by moving to join the TPP negotiations. So why aren't we inviting him to come to Australia and saying, 'We are prepared to get moving on finalising a free trade agreement with Japan'? That is what this government should be doing. There is a real live opportunity there, and it would help our agricultural exporters. In particular, Japan is our biggest export market for dairy products, and South Korea is our largest beef export market. There are real opportunities there for the government.

What is the issue that is getting in the way at the moment? It is investor-state dispute resolution. Why did this government put a blanket refusal on putting investor-state dispute resolution into any more free trade agreements? By doing that it has held up the Japanese agreement and it has held up the South Korean agreement. There is no particular reason for it other than some sort of blanket ideological opposition to investor-state dispute resolution.

I call on the trade minister, the government and the Prime Minister to look again at this. At least they should have the common sense to say, 'If the offer from Japan on agriculture were significant and if the offer from South Korean on agriculture were significant, we would be prepared to look at investor-state dispute resolution.' We would be prepared to say, 'Yes, if you're prepared to do that then we would be prepared to look at this issue.' Why the government will not do this is to me indescribable. We have a real opportunity here to get progress on these agreements, and yet there is this blanket refusal, which seems to be all about protecting the government from potentially being sued as a result of the policy on the plain-packaging legislation. That seems to be the explanation, though we have not heard it from the government. That is why it does not seem to want to go into this area.

It is wrong; it is hurting our agricultural exporters at a time when they need to be getting low-cost access to the markets of our near neighbours. It also makes a mockery of the Asian century white paper. We are meant to be the food bowl for Asia in this century. What are we doing? We are putting in place policies which are preventing that from happening and allowing the US, the European Union, Latin America and New Zealand easier access to these markets than we are allowing our own agricultural exporters.