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Monday, 25 November 1996
Page: 5946

Senator EGGLESTON(7.20 p.m.) —A couple of weeks ago, the annual report of the Export Finance Insurance Corporation was tabled in the Senate. I was interested in this because, by coincidence, my Perth office is on the same floor of the Exchange Plaza as Austrade and EFIC, as it is known. It seemed to me that EFIC was a fairly obscure government agency but, having read through the report, I would like to put on record that I greatly admire the contribution EFIC is making towards facilitating Australia's export drive to all parts of the world. It is very clear that EFIC is playing a very important role in promoting Australia's export trade internationally, in particular within the European and Asian markets. EFIC is doing an outstanding job in this area.

According to EFIC's annual report, the corporation supported an incredible $7.5 billion in exports in 1995-96, which was an increase of some 20 per cent in the support they had given to Australian exports over the previous year. It shows that the work EFIC is doing in financing insurance for Australian exports is really vital to the international economy that Australia seeks to become a part of.

EFIC support goes mostly to small and medium sized companies. For example, over the last year, as I said, the total value of exports that they supported was $7.5 billion, but that included $2.935 billion to Europe, $2.227 billion to Asia, and $1.173 billion to the Americas—which is, interestingly, made up of $949 million to North America and $224 million to South America—and also includes exports to the Middle East and to Africa. So EFIC's spectrum is very wide indeed.

The kinds of companies that EFIC has supported include financing a German company's support of fast catamaran ferries for routes on the Baltic Sea to and from Sweden as well as other Baltic ports. Most of their focus, however, in terms of new business is in Asia, which is appropriate when one considers the growth of the economies in that area and their importance to Australia in the long run.

Asia accounted for 30 per cent of the total exports financed by EFIC, and South-East Asian buyers were recipients of 49 per cent of new loans signed. Indonesia was the largest borrower of medium- to long-term finance for Australian exports, while Singapore overtook Malaysia as the largest user of EFIC credit insurance in South-East Asia.

EFIC provided financial services to people who wished to export across the whole spectrum of South-East Asia, India, North Asia, China and Japan. Support was given for loans to China for 15 telecommunications and water treatment plants, which amounted to some $83 million in export value to Australia, and four export working capital guarantees were issued for things as diverse as mining machinery, pumps, packaging and brewing machinery—Australia, obviously, being a world leader in the technology of brewing.

In the case of Japan, credit insurance for exports to Japan increased by some $231 million, covering things such as dairy and machinery products. In addition, seven working capital guarantees were issued covering contracts for aerospace equipment, car parts, motor cycles, audio editing equipment and canned beer. It just shows what a wide spectrum of activities EFIC does support, including, as I said, exports to places as diverse as the Middle East, Africa and South America—where three loans were signed for the export of agricultural machinery to Argentina and another loan provided for the provision and installation of telephone switches in the same country.

The Middle East is a growth area for EFIC with export credit insurance increasing by 45 per cent over the last year, and four export working capital guarantees were issued for Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. It is interesting to compare the current record of the Australian merchandise export portfolio to various regions of the world with what it was 20 years ago. The figures reveal the changing pattern of Australia's involvement with the rest of the world and our growing engagement with Asia.

In 1975, the Asian region as a whole accounted for 47.2 per cent of Australian merchandise exports compared with 63 per cent in 1995. Western Europe received 17 per cent of our merchandise exports in 1975, but this is now down to 12.3 per cent. Eastern Europe represented 4.7 per cent in 1975, but in 1995 that was only 0.6 per cent. The North American free trade area accounted for 12.8 per cent of our merchandise exports in 1975, but that is now down to 9.5 per cent.

These relative changes in percentages reflect the growth of Asia, particularly South-East Asia and North Asia, in importance as destinations for Australian exports. They are undoubtedly a measure of the success of Australia's push into the region following the British entry into the Common Market in the early 1970s. They also reflect the spectacular growth of some of the nations and their economies in the Asian region. It is interesting to note that, excluding Japan, the East Asian regional economies have grown by an average of 9.4 per cent since 1990. There is no doubt that this growth signals great opportunities for Australian industry and business.

In conclusion, I would like to say and put on the record that I greatly admire the import ant contribution that this small office on the same floor as I occupy in Perth is making to the Australian economy and to our export drive. I would like to put on record the fact that EFIC supports exports to some 155 countries either through insuring the exporter against non-payment by the buyer, which is credit insurance, or through providing finance for capital goods. As I said, I think they are doing a great job. They certainly deserve to be recognised for what they are doing.