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Labor's trade policy confusion sinks deeper.



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Thu, 5th June 2008 LABOR'S TRADE POLICY CONFUSION SINKS DEEPER

The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP Shadow Minister for Trade (to 22 September 2008)

The Rudd Labor Government's trade policy confusion has deepened with the Prime Minister sending out yet another conflicting message on Australia's trade policy direction, Shadow Minister for Trade Ian Macfarlane said today.

''This Government is jumping back and forward, making claim after counter claim on trade, with absolutely no consistency.

''This time it's the Prime Minister's claims to be focused on an Asia-Pacific Union that have raised questions about how serious this Government is on trade.

''This presumptuous plan might suit the Prime Minister's self-styled ideas of his importance in the region, but it just throws more confusion into the mix about the Rudd Labor Government's trade policy.

''While the Government does have the responsibility of advancing the interests of Australian exporters and farmers through all forums, it is placing the livelihoods of Australian exporters on shaky ground unless the Prime Minister and Trade Minister Simon Crean gain some coherence and direction on trade policy.

''This week Simon Crean told an audience in the United States that completing the Doha Round of world trade talks was his absolute priority, at the same time officials from his own department were making clear in Senate Estimates that bilateral agreements were not second priority to multilateral negotiations.

''Days earlier Mr Crean had been taking credit for the Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement and lauding the importance of bilateral trade agreements, but that came after months of failing to stand up to the Labor razor gang which has cut negotiating budgets for further free trade agreements.

''On top of that, during his last overseas trip the Prime Minister continued Labor's erratic message on trade, changing his approach depending on his audience.

''So while the Chinese were told of the Rudd Labor Government's strong focus on bilateral free trade agreements, the Europeans were told the Government's main game was the Doha round of WTO talks.

''But the message has now changed again.

''Now the Prime Minister wants the world to believe his priority is a regional trade agreement with partners he has so far either snubbed or refused to trust with Australian sales of uranium.

''And all this talk is taking place amid the Mortimer Review on Australian trade policy, which won't even report for almost another three months and could change trade policy direction yet again.

''The Rudd Labor Government's credibility on trade is being stretched beyond recovery point.

''The Prime Minister and Trade Minister are risking outcomes for Australian exporters by presenting such a whimsical front to important trade partners.

''Instead of attempting to catch the headlines the Prime Minister should concentrate on the heart of trade policy, getting Australia's bilateral arrangements with Asia in order before looking to a grand plan for the region.

''The Rudd Labor Government must stop posturing and instead should get serious about trade.''