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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16412

Mr NEHL (2:58 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House of the potential benefits to flow from China's membership of the World Trade Organisation? In particular, what benefits can our primary producers expect from China's membership of the WTO?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for his question and recognise not only the importance to his constituency in expanding our export potential to China but also his interest in China itself. In the last couple of weeks we have seen some significant progress made in terms of moving China towards becoming a member of the WTO. In fact, while I was leading a delegation of 70 Australian businessmen and women to China in the last 10 days, we saw the European Union conclude their market access negotiations with China. Then last week we saw the US Congress pass the PNTR legislation, which finally cleared the last hurdle as far as the US acceptance of China as a member of the WTO is concerned. Of course, once China becomes a member of the WTO, it is going to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Australian exporters and to the Australian economy in improved market access to that marketplace. Our deal that we negotiated with China that was started by my predecessor, the member for Farrer, was concluded last week when I signed the formal agreement with Minister Shi.

There are some good examples of Australian commodities that will benefit from this deal. For instance, the great Australian wine industry will see greater market access into China, with a reduction in tariffs from 60 per cent to 14 per cent; Australian beef will see reductions from 45 per cent to 15 per cent; butter will see reductions from 30 per cent to 10 per cent; and citrus will see reductions from 40 per cent to 12 per cent. These are very significant in terms of the access that we are getting into that marketplace. Just as importantly, while I was in China I had the honour of participating in a number of agreement signing ceremonies with Australian companies—and not just primary producing companies—in terms of their exports to China. For example, an Australian company based in Newcastle called Long-Airdox signed a major deal worth $10 million for Australian coal washing equipment to be exported to China; Muirfield, a Victorian company, is being engaged to participate in environmental revegetation along the Yangtze River; and Cootamundra Oilseeds has signed a contract worth tens of millions of dollars to provide oilseeds to a market in southern China. These are all important developments as far as Australia's exporters are concerned.

We have energetically supported the accession of China into the WTO. It seems now that it is definitely going to take place, with the passing of the PNTR bill in the US House of Representatives last week—unfortunately, at the same time as the US House passed a bill to hand out another $7.1 billion to US farmers in domestic subsidies, which will make it very difficult for our farmers in the international trading markets of the world. This is why it is important that we continue to increase the membership of the WTO and to focus on improving the rules and disciplines so that we can bring equity and more discipline into international farm trade in the face of the high levels of unfair support that is provided to farmers by some of our major trading partners. The deal that has been done with China is important, and one that will see us add hundreds of millions of dollars worth of exports to our export effort and provide many more hundreds of jobs in exporting industries across Australia.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.