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Transcript of doorstop interview [press conference]: Canberra: 4 March 1998: on Outcomes & Objectives Trade Statement

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And do they have that solution?

Well, if this statement's any guide, no they don't. COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRr..,K



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ESEOE Cook Yesterday I put out a press release saying what the tests were for the Trade Minister's statement today and I have to say, looking back over what he's done he has not answered that test at all. This is a poor statement, and the big effort Mr Fischer has put

into promoting it does show what the desperation of the government is in trying to sell this statement. I mean, never has anyone worked so hard to say so much about so little. That's what this statement in fact underlines is the paucity of the government's effort on trade. If this is a recipe for Australia to deal with the Asian crisis in Australian unemployed will get worse and that more jobs will be lost than is necessary because this

is not a recipe that answers that problem. Now yesterday as well I drew attention tot he fact that there are a number of important industry sectors. The automotive sector and the textile, clothing and footwear sector that the government has as its first priority. What it proposes to do in this statement to open markets for those sectors is not

enough and the government should act more courageously and more directly with our key markets to bring down levels of market protection. I just think this is unfortunately a good statement from the point of view of recording some statistics, but a bad statement as a recipe for the future.

Journalist The report says employment or jobs growth and inflation could suffer because of the Asian currency crisis. What will Labor do to (inaudible)...

Cook Well we've made it quite clear over a long time what Labor would do, we would have moved earlier to recognise the extent of the crisis. We would have conducted seminars around Australia for Australian business to help them understand that impact and protect their own markets sooner. We would have put some more money into export market development grants so that Australians can develop more markets. We would have had an activist Trade Minister to go and open up new markets, not just in the countries referred to in this statement, but as well in India, in Russia, in Middle-Europe, in Czechoslovakia and other places of that nature as well. And we would have come to terms with the European Union on an agreement on trade, a proper treaty, and not just

apiece of paper, because we would have resolved the human rights dilemmas inherent in that. There are a number of things that we would have done that would have meant that we have grown trade and exports out of this country at a much greater rate.

Journalist Is the segment on the impact on jobs in Australia from the Asian crisis in Mr Fischer's statement today, does that show that the government's being more realistic about the impact of this crisis?

Cook This is the first time the government's come clean with the Australian people that jobs will be lost, consumer confidence will be hurt, investment levels will be down, and there will be contraction of family incomes. It's the first time they've said that. It's a pity they didn't say that sooner, and it is welcome that they say it now but it's important that we know how many jobs, what industry sectors, who will be hurt and what other

remedies that the government proposes to put in place to solve the problem, and we need to know it now.


Journalist (inaudible)

Cook Surely, inevitably, some industries will suffer. As I said, we should have moved sooner. Last year, Mr Costello was saying this is not a problem, Australia is fireproofed from the Asian crisis. We now hear, not from the Minister, but from the people who wrote this book, that that's not true, Australian jobs will go but we don't have any sort of convincing remedy to how to solve the problem at all. It should have been acted on up front, dealt with promptly and along the lines that I've described.

Journalist Do you think they were complacent?

Cook I think they were self satisfied and complacent, and believe their own rhetoric that they'd somehow fireproofed Australia because they'd done something about the deficit. I mean, Kim Beazley got it right just last week when he said that the underlying reason why Australia was thus far immune from the crisis was that we, when we were in government, that's Labor, deregulated the financial system and floated the currency. We got the structure and the fundamentals of the economy right. The reason why the difficulties in Asia occurred as they did is not because of balanced Budgets, it's because

of the fundamentals in those economies.

Journalist Do you think.., the outlook is an accurate assessment of the impact of Asia (inaudible)....

Cook Well the outlook is alarming. It says Australian jobs will be lost, household incomes will contract, the domestic economy will be affected, but it doesn't say when will this happen, other than some time in 1998/1999. It doesn't say by what degree it will happen and how many people will be affected. Nor does it put in place a convincing

remedy to solve the problem or deal with it. And I think the fundamental obligation on the government is to make those facts known in the public domain so we can have a proper debate about solutions as a community and not the government to sit on that

information and keep it secret.

Journalist (inaudible)

Cook Well, advice coming to me just this week is that Australian exporters into Japan are still having difficulty winning market share in that country, despite that fact that the exchange rate favours Australian dramatically over Japanese and American. I would have thought that this is something for the Trade Minister himself to act decisively on. Why doesn't he go to Japan and deal with this question? Why doesn't he ask for the Australian-Japan Ministerial Forum to be brought forward, it's an annual forum now, to look at these sorts of issues. What is happening in APEC in which we are starting to work out solutions to the problems? I mean that's just one example of it. In TCF there's a number of measures that ... in this area as well.

Journalist (Inaudible)... bilateral trade negotiations and saying that Labor has gone to sleep on the issue and this government...

Cook Yeah, yeah I know. Well, that's what he said, well, how do I plead, not guilty, it's not true. The allegation is of course not true. We had an activist bilateral negotiation. I opened up the market in Taiwan for Australian apples, for example. But I don't apologise in the slightest for what we did on multilateral trade negotiation. As a result

of concluding the Uruguay Round we opened a $2 billion market for Australian agriculture, they're not my figures, they're ABARE's figures, we opened a $2 billion market for Australian agriculture. Now, I'd like to put that alongside what Mr Fischer boasted about as getting a bit of extra citrus juice into South Korea. Well, good luck to him and I'm pleased for the citrus producers that he's done that. But it by nowhere compares to the effect of successful bilateral trade negotiations when the outcome there for agricultural alone was $2 billion.