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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1620

Senator LOOSLEY —I direct my question to the Minister for Trade. I refer to the minister's observations last week on the visit to Australia of a substantial trade and investment delegation from China which was seeking partnerships with Australian firms and companies. Is the minister now in a position to advise the Senate of the outcome of the delegation's visit? What trade and investment benefits to Australia are likely to occur? Is there ground for optimism?

Senator McMULLAN —I am sure that all honourable senators will welcome the fact that at the Melbourne forum alone 147 letters of intent relating to projects worth in excess of $1.2 billion were signed with Australian companies on projects discussed at the forum. We do not want to overstate that. They are letters of intent; they are not contracts, but it is an important positive initiative, which I am sure all honourable senators welcome. A similar forum was conducted in Sydney, which finished yesterday, and we expect agreements of similar magnitude to be signed there. So it has been a particularly positive experience for Australia-China trade. Austrade, the trade and investment promotion service of the department, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, which jointly organised this, are to be congratulated, as is the Australian business community, which responded positively—

  Opposition senators interjecting

Senator McMULLAN —I realise that this is not important enough to occupy the attention of some opposition members. Some of them are listening, I accept. For the 400 Australian companies which participated and for the Australians who may well get jobs out of the investment from trade which flows, I am sure that it is considered very significant. The project list included major infrastructure projects, power stations, gas pipelines, highways, airports, et cetera. Those opposite will remember that the list with which the Chinese delegation came was valued at more than $10 billion.

  Letters of intent signed during the China trade and investment forum related to, for example, a hydro power station project—if it is to go ahead, it will be worth about $60 million; sewerage treatment plants; milk and dairy food processing—I am sure many National Party senators will welcome that; natural gas pipelines; and fruit juice processing.

  I do not wish to overstate the situation and claim that all those projects will go ahead, but it is a significant opportunity for Australian business. It creates significant potential, and it shows that the fundamental structural and policy changes in the two economies have created enormous opportunities for Australia to develop a great economic engagement with China in ways that will help realise our national ambition of becoming a world trader in manufactures and services.

  Our exports to China are already worth $2.3 billion. There is significant Australian investment in China and Chinese investment in Australia. The business that flows from these forums will ensure that these figures increase dramatically. This was a significant delegation in terms of its sheer size and in terms of the list of projects it proposed. The most important thing is that it shows the significant possibility that, when government provides its resources to make business possible and creates a climate in which the private sector can respond, we have a significant potential with the increased efficiency of our economy to participate significantly in the biggest market in the world and to succeed in ways that will create significant economic benefit to Australia and jobs for Australians.