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Industry fully consulted over free trade agreements.

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5 April 2001            01/124 

INDUSTRY FULLY CONSULTED OVER FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS  Senator Nick Minchin, Minister for Industry, Science and Resources has labelled the Opposition's allegations that key industries were not consulted over the proposed free trade agreement with the United States as a complete beat-up.

"Dr Lawrence and Senator Cook are clearly out of touch. They have no understanding of the process involved in negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Such negotiations are entered into for the sole purpose of benefiting the Australian economy and the Government is very much guided by the views of business in forming its negotiating stance," Senator Minchin said.

"Although the United States has expressed some interest in a possible Free Trade Agreement, no decisions have as yet been made by either party to proceed with negotiations. The proposal is very much embryonic, with no formal negotiations in place with the United States and at this stage consultations with industry and the opposition would not be appropriate.

"It is simply not true to say that the Government raised the possibility of negotiations with the US in a vacuum. The Government has explored this possibility with business through the Trade Policy Advisory Council which includes senior executives from the major sectors of the economy - including the Auto industry which Dr Lawrence has referred to specifically.

"Dr Lawrence and Senator Cook are apparently totally unaware of the openness of modern Australian industry to exploring free trade possibilities. This raises the question of how much contact they have with industry.

"If the Government was to embark on a negotiations, there would be

comprehensive consultations with the whole community. This approach is well illustrated by the current FTA negotiations with Singapore. Since the beginning of the year the Government's negotiating team for the Singapore FTA has consulted with all business sectors, visiting every State and Territory capital. In addition, the Government held a roundtable discussion with industry leaders at Parliament House in February.

"Against this background, there should be no doubt whatsoever that the Government will continue its already well established record of close consultation with industry in the event of an FTA with the United States."

Dr Lawrence and Senator Cook are totally premature in complaining that they have not been involved in negotiations. The simple fact is that nothing has been agreed to," Senator Minchin said.

  Contact: Carolyn Coleman, Senator Minchin's Office, 02 6277 7580   CMR148-01

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