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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31137


Mr McARTHUR (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House of the trade outcomes from the recent meeting between the Association of South-East Asian Nations and Australia and New Zealand?


Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Corangamite for his question. The member for Corangamite is recognised on both sides of this House for his avid support of our government's position in the promotion of open markets and trade liberalisation across the world, but most importantly within our region, in our pursuit of multilateral agreements, regional agreements and bilateral measures.

On Saturday night and Sunday I was in Hanoi, where I met with my counterparts in the Association of South-East Asian Nations to discuss the proposal for a closer economic partnership between Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN's 10 member countries. Those countries include Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. We have made very real progress and agreed on a framework for a closer trade and economic partnership between our countries within the region. The agreement reached in Hanoi is a result of six years of work on trade facilitation and economic cooperation within our region. This is a significant step forward, providing for the first time a formal and structured approach to promoting trade, investment and regional economic integration.

ASEAN is a very significant and important marketplace for Australia. The closer economic partnership encompasses economies representing a population of over 540 million people, with a combined GDP of over $A1 trillion. ASEAN accounts for 14 per cent of our total goods and services trade. Last year's exports hit a record high of $15.1 billion, with two-way trade between Australia and the ASEAN countries at $33 billion, an increase of over 35 per cent. The signing of the closer economic partnership agreement will take place at next year's meeting in Brunei between Australia, New Zealand and the 10 ASEAN countries.

In announcing this, it is important that we note—as you have, Mr Speaker—the presence in the chamber today of the Indonesian delegation representing the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly and their chairman, Dr Amien Rais. We welcome Dr Rais and his delegation to our parliament. Indonesia has played a critical role in the establishment of the agreement reached in Hanoi on Sunday. Indonesia is a key member of ASEAN and through their commitment to the relationship with Australia they have certainly played a pivotal role in forging ahead with this historic agreement.

Last Saturday night I had a very successful first time meeting with the new Indonesian Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister Rini Soewandi, at which we reaffirmed our commitment to working closely together within the Cairns Group, the WTO, APEC and the AFTA-CER relationship, as well as at the all important bilateral level. Australia's trading relationship with Indonesia continues to flourish, with two-way trade in goods and services growing by 25 per cent last year, now standing at $7.8 billion—the largest two-way trade figure ever between the two nations. It needs to be recorded that this has come as a result of a lot of hard work that has been done by both the Australian side and the Indonesian side in recent years to ensure the health of our bilateral relationship.