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Thursday, 27 June 1996
Page: 2381

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade. In this my last question in the Senate, I refer to Australia's trade policy and recall the Governor-General's speech at the opening of this parliament when he spoke of trade with Asia as Australia's highest priority and emphasised `global trade liberalisation', such as through the WTO; a regional `focus', such as importantly through APEC; and new activities in `bilateral' trade negotiations. China was one of the particular countries mentioned. I ask the minister to outline the achievements and the current activities of the government in these areas. Also, I commend the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Mr Tim Fischer, for his significant visit earlier this month to Latin America to chair the Cairns Group and for his bilateral visits, not least to Chile. What were the significant outcomes of this visit?

Senator HILL —I could not think of a more appropriate question to get from Senator Teague as his last question. It is probably the case that no individual senator has done more to further Australia's foreign and trade relations with individual countries than Senator Teague, and he has visited them all on many occasion.

It is true that, whilst we acknowledged the work that the government was doing in relation to multilateral trade negotiations when we were in opposition—through bodies such as the Cairns Group, in the former GATT negotiations and in other ways—we did hold the strong view that insufficient effort was being put into developing individual bilateral trade relations and insufficient structures were being placed within the department to facilitate those bilateral negotiations.

It has been heartening to see that Mr Fischer, the new trade minister, has followed up on the concerns we previously expressed and has made a real effort to contribute to the development of stronger bilateral trade relations since taking office. He has done this particularly—as you said, Senator Teague—through his recent visits to Asia. I refer to his visit to the Philippines, where he signed a bilateral agreement which will provide market access for tropical fruit to the Philippines. That has been in the pipeline for some eight years, yet it was Mr Fischer who was able to bring it to fruition.

Mr Fischer initialled a new bilateral trade agreement with Malaysia during Minister Rafidah's recent visit to Australia. He has also done work in relation to various latin American countries, which Senator Teague mentioned. I am not surprised that Senator Teague raised Latin America, because we all know the contribution he has made there—particularly to the Senate committee report on Australia's relations with Latin America, which is treated as the document that has contributed more to furthering our relationship with that part of the world than any other single document. That fact has been acknowledged by ambassadors to various Latin American countries.

Mr Fischer has followed up on that, I am pleased to say. I will mention just a few examples of where he facilitated bilateral trade development on his recent visit to Latin America. He visited Chile, where he signed a special double taxation commitment and pursued trade policy matters in relation to the potential increased export of coal. I also mention the work he is doing in Chile to accelerate a bilateral air carriers agreement to better assist our trade and investment prospects.

On his visit to Brazil, Mr Fischer expressed Australia's serious concerns about Brazil's application for a 25 per cent shipping freight tax on Australian exporters, something that would work against our exporters. He also pursued trade opportunities in Brazil in relation to telecommunications, agribusiness, mining equipment and infrastructure. Finally, I mention Venezuela and the work Mr Fischer did to further facilitate BHP's joint venture with the Venezuelan company Sivensa. That could lead to a $US680 million investment in the construction of a new direct reduced iron plant.

The new trade minister has taken up the challenge and is achieving what the former Labor government was unable to achieve, and that is in Australia's best interests. I take this opportunity to thank Senator Teague for all that he has contributed to bilateral relations, particularly with Latin America.