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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26140

Mr McARTHUR (3:22 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House about recent trends in Australia's trade performance and steps the government is taking to further develop our export opportunities?

Mr Tanner —Didn't you answer this last week?

Mr SPEAKER —Member for Melbourne!

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. Whilst the slowing—

Mr Tanner —What's been happening since then?

Mr SPEAKER —Member for Melbourne, for the third time!

Mr VAILE —Whilst the slowing global economy poses challenges for Australian exporters, Australian exporters continue to do an outstanding job as far as Australia is concerned and as far as the strength of our economy is concerned. I would like to inform the House that the latest monthly trade figures show a substantial improvement in the balance of trade in February 2001 over the previous month. The balance of trade moved from a deficit of $89 million in January to a surplus of $389 million in February. Moreover, in trend terms, the balance of trade in February moved into surplus for the first time since August 1996. Exports rose three per cent in February, with rural exports jumping 15 per cent.

That news this year in the month of February is unquestionably fantastic for the Australian economy. I am sure that the member for Corangamite very quickly put a press release out around his electorate, identifying the great job that the exporters from his electorate were doing. I might have missed something, but I have not seen one from the Australian Labor Party acknowledging these good results by Australia's exporters in February this year, because the Australian Labor Party are not interested in good news. They are not interested in talking up the Australian economy; they are only interested in talking the Australian economy down. While the Australian Labor Party are sitting around, wanting to slide back into office, our government is busy working with our exporters to deliver new market opportunities and to facilitate better opportunities for economic growth in our country and for Australia's exporters.

Tomorrow I will outline the government's annual trade outcomes and objectives statement, which is our report card to the Australian people on our trade performance for the 12 months of the year 2000, and an outline of what we propose to do during the next 12 months. One of the more important trade policy tasks we are going to undertake is to strengthen the bilateral relationship with the new US administration later on this week. I will be travelling to the US to meet the new USTR, Bob Zoellick, to talk about issues revolving around the WTO later on this year, the ministerial APEC and the possibilities of a bilateral free trade agreement.

The important point is that we have continued to work to strengthen economic circumstances in Australia to facilitate a better trading opportunity. We have embarked upon economic reform, which has strengthened the opportunity for Australia's exporters. We have embarked upon workplace relations reform, waterfront reform and taxation reform—all of which have undeniably strengthened the position of Australia's export industries. All reform projects that we have undertaken have been opposed at every turn by the Australian Labor Party. At the end of last week, we saw some good news for the Australian economy, good news for Australian exporters. To date, I have not seen an acknowledgment of that from the Australian Labor Party.

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