Speech by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, The Hon Tim Fischer at the Silver Perch Industry Forum, Port Macquarie, 14 March 1998.
Mark Vaile MP, Kevin Ryan, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be in Port Macquarie, and I want to thank Norcoast and Exportise - our hosts today - for the opportunity to say a few brief words at this Silver Perch Industry Forum.
Norcoast and Exportise recently commenced a study on the potential for setting up a viable silver perch export business based on the north coast of New South Wales. Stage one of the study has now been completed, and this forum is the next step. It provides an opportunity to talk about stage one, and the major issues facing the industry.
I am very pleased that the Australian Government was able to provide $15,000 for stage one of the study, and a further $20,000 for stage two, as part of the Coalition's Regional Assistance Program. This is practical assistance designed to help local silver perch farmers make the most of the available export opportunities.
I believe there is scope for genuine optimism about the future of Australia's fishing industry, particularly those who are exporting fish and fish products.
Australia's exports of fish and fish products, a sector which includes silver perch, have been increasing steadily over the years and now account for more than A$1.4 billion worth of Australia's exports - a very impressive figure. While imports have also increased, Australia was still able to post a net export trade of nearly A$700 million in 1996/97.
As Minister for Trade, I will never tire of pointing out that Australia's future depends on our ability to trade, and trade well.
My argument is simple but compelling. Trade means jobs. It means more jobs and better jobs. It means better standards of living.
Australia's total exports now represent around a fifth of Australia's GDP. That is why the Government is doing its utmost to ensure that our exporters are given as fair a deal as possible.
Developments in Asia
Of course, economic difficulties in East Asia are posing new challenges. We realise that many of our exporters are doing it tough at the moment and we will do all we can to protect our market share both for now, and for the future. We must not let our competitors steal a march on us in Asia.
But there are new opportunities in the region as well - it is not all bad news by any means. And I am pleased to say that the major export markets for Australia's fish exporters - Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong - have not been as adversely affected as other markets in the Asia Pacific.
The Government is in there batting for Australian jobs and lending a hand to neighbours. We have expanded our credit insurance for exporters, extended the Export Market Development Grants Scheme, contributed to the IMF packages in Asia, set up special assistance through Austrade and, through Exporter Summits and individually, talked to exporters about how we can best help.
Meanwhile, through the Government's Supermarket to Asia initiative, launched in September 1996, we are bringing together government and industry leaders with the ultimate aim of substantially increasing Australia's food exports to Asia. We have already had some success in this practical endeavour - Japan has removed its ban on the import of some shellfish - and more results are in the pipeline for 1998.
That is why one of the Government's highest priorities is to push ahead on trade liberalisation. Australia is showing the way forward on low tariffs. In comparison with our major markets for fish, we have one of the lowest tariffs on fish and fish products - including silver perch - in the region, bettered only by Hong Kong, which has a nearly uniform zero tariff structure. In comparison, the tariff rates for fish and fish products range from zero to 12.3 percent in Japan, and zero to 50 percent for Taiwan.
APEC is a key forum for Australia's regional trade-liberalising effort. Fish is one of the 15 priority sectors being negotiated under the Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation program currently underway in APEC. These negotiations for the fish sector include as one of their most important elements an ambitious trade liberalisation component.
The goal is to see tariffs gradually being eliminated within APEC by 2005, with faster staging of reductions for goods which have applied tariffs of less than 20 percent. For non-tariff measures, the sectoral proposal would see APEC Leaders declaring their intention to eliminate non-tariff measures on a voluntary basis on all fish and fish products by the end of 2007.
Negotiations on all fifteen sectors are continuing, with the view to bringing a final package to the APEC Trade Ministers' meeting in June in Malaysia for approval.
I want to conclude by congratulating the silver perch industry for what it has achieved - here at home and in the export market.
In this increasingly competitive and globalising trading environment, I applaud outward-looking Australian industries which get out in the world and sell their product.
The Australian Government will continue to do all it can in helping your industry - and exporters across the country - prise open new markets and get better access in existing markets.
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