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Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Page: 11964


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:34): Free trade is good. This should not be a controversial statement. Free trade brings openness, trust and economic prosperity. The more nations we trade with, the more nations we can export to and the more goods and services we have access to. Free trade also fosters friendship between countries because, as history has taught us, countries that trade with each other don't fight with each other, yet parts of the world are retreating into protectionism and antagonism. We are seeing on a global scale the tensions that arise when countries retreat towards protectionism and the damage that this can do to all parties. We must stand up for the principles of free trade and openness.

This government has made free trade a priority, and Australia has grown as a result. Since the coalition took office in September 2013, our trade ministers have done what many previous trade ministers have tried but failed to achieve. We have signed free trade agreements with Japan, Korea and China, not to mention Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Agreements with India and Indonesia are also, hopefully, to be agreed soon.

Trade has contributed one-quarter of Australia's economic growth over the past five years. The TPP will usher in a new era of economic growth and opportunity across our region. We are witnessing significant economic transformation across the Asia-Pacific, and these agreements will allow us to harness these enormous opportunities whilst also strengthening our economy to face future challenges.

The Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement has already delivered 84 per cent tariff reductions on Korea's imports and will eventually lead to 99.8 per cent of Australia's goods exported to Korea being duty free. The Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement will provide improved access to Japan's growing markets, with more than 97 per cent of Australia's exports receiving preferential or duty-free access when fully implemented.

The free trade agreement with China, our country's largest trading partner, will deliver economic growth and increased investment that will improve the life of every Australian, from the ports of Western Australia to my electorate of Bennelong. Many times in this place I've spoken of my very good fortune in representing a community with a large, vibrant and engaged community of Chinese Australians. At many local events, we have discussed the importance of building bridges between our two nations to allow even stronger linkages as partners in trade, business and culture. This free trade agreement cements those bridges and will create many business opportunities and employment opportunities for Bennelong residents.

With one in five jobs trade related—export and import—the government will continue to pursue its firm commitment towards a free trade environment that has helped to deliver an enviable record of economic prosperity and growth, job creation and higher standards of living. Our existing free trade agreements are helping our economy to be at its strongest since the mining boom. They have been excellent investments by this coalition government.

That brings me to the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or PAFTA. Peru has an economy similar in size to Vietnam's and larger than New Zealand's, and a growing middle class, and there is significant scope to quickly grow Australia's economic linkages with Peru. Under PAFTA, Peru will eliminate 99.4 per cent of its tariffs. In a time of drought, PAFTA upon entry will eliminate tariffs on beef within five years, to ensure that Australian beef farmers will have duty-free access to the Peruvian market. There will be more sugar market access for Australian sugar farmers than Peru has provided to any sugar-exporting country in the last 20 years. Dairy farmers will be able to compete with competitors, and outcomes on certain dairy products, such as butter, will exceed outcomes provided to the EU and New Zealand. There will be immediate duty-free access for Australian wine; sheepmeat; most horticultural products, including almonds; kangaroo meat; and wheat. There will be immediate duty-free access for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, paper and paperboard. There will be the best services commitments that Peru has offered to any country, which will create new opportunities for Australian mining service providers. And there will be recognition of Australian degrees in Peru.

I am a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, JSCOT, and we saw PAFTA come before us just four months ago. At the time, the agreement was agreed by both the coalition and Labor. This was a bipartisan policy, as it should be, because it is also good policy. I like bipartisanship. We work best when we work together, and people turn off politics when we play political games. Together we looked at the evidence and together we agreed that this agreement is in the interests of the Australian people. It seems that the unions have got to the Labor Party and forced them to change their minds. This is sad.

Unions have a strong history of protectionism, going back over a century—a history which has hampered our growth from time to time. Everyone will remember the, frankly, xenophobic campaign by the CFMEU against the Chinese free trade agreement, which did enormous damage to our relations with China and even to the harmony in electorates like my electorate of Bennelong.

In fairness to our colleagues, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, at the request of the Labor Party, referred PAFTA back to JSCOT for a second hearing, which we have just had in the last few weeks. It's disappointing to see that Labor now state that the implementing legislation should be postponed until the government renegotiates ISDS out of PAFTA. As evidence presented to the inquiry confirmed, PAFTA has a strong investment chapter with broad safeguards that preserve the right of the Australian government to continue regulation in the public interest, including in the areas of health and environment. This is a significant improvement over the existing ISDS arrangements which were signed by the Keating government in 1995.

Unsurprisingly, JSCOT recommended early ratification of PAFTA in its current form. Thankfully, this is where the committee's deliberations will end, and there is nothing now preventing this agreement being ratified by Australia. I look forward to this happening and to all the broader benefits that this agreement will give to thousands of Australian businesses and families.

Debate adjourned.