Tabling Statement by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, The Hon Tim Fischer on the Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement 4 March 1998.


Mr Speaker
I seek leave of the House to make a statement on Trade Policy and to table the Government's second annual Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement.

The first Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement, which I tabled at the beginning of last year's Parliament, was a landmark document in the history of Australian trade policy.

It was a clear demonstration of this Government's commitment to enhancing Australia's trade and investment performance through well focused trade policy objectives, strategies and actions.

The 1998 Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement has the same practical and forward-looking focus on advancing Australia's economic interests.

It delivers to the Australian people and Australian business a results-oriented and frank assessment of Australia's trading performance, and sets out how we will achieve practical trade wins in the future.

It honours the strong commitment the Coalition made in 1996 - and again in 1997 - to maintain a process of open and constructive dialogue with the Australian people on how best to advance our prosperity and security.

And it gives detailed expression to the broad, long-term trade policy framework identified in Australia's first ever White Paper on Foreign Affairs and Trade released in August last year.

Mr Speaker

Australia's jobs and living standards depend on a competitive domestic economy and open international markets.
Since coming to office two years ago, the Coalition Government has given its highest priority to securing jobs for Australians through practical and effective domestic and international policies.

The Government's trade policies seek to complement our domestic economic and industry policies.
With better market access and more opportunities for export, the benefits will be directly felt here at home through growth and more jobs in export industries. And there will be positive flow-on benefits to those domestic businesses that support export activity.

The 1998 Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement reviews the trade and investment achievements of the past twelve months.

Importantly it considers the implications of recent events in the Asia Pacific, including the overriding imperative to maintain momentum for economic reform and trade liberalisation - at home and abroad.

The Government is committed to Asia for the long haul.

The Government is pursuing active strategies in response to the Asia economic instability through its involvement in IMF reform packages and our expanded trade credit insurance for exporters. We are talking to Australian businesses and putting in place practical measures to assist Australian companies over coming months.

And as we promised to do on being elected to Government in 1996, we are continuing to expand our market development and market access efforts across the globe.

It is interesting to note that Australian exporters are picking up on these opportunities. Exporters are seeing the benefits in diversifying their efforts and are not relying on traditional markets as much as in the past.

This is reflected in the decrease in the proportion of Australia's exports going to Japan. In 1995, 23.1 percent of our exports went to Japan. In 1997, this declined to 19.8 percent as business capitalised on the range of opportunities in Asia and throughout the world.

For example, in 1996-97, our fastest growing markets included Iran (71% increase in exports), Egypt (51% increase), South Africa (31% increase) and Mexico (24% increase).

Mr Speaker

The 1998 Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement highlights some notable trade successes.

Last financial year, Australian businesses chalked up record overseas sales of goods and services, with exports exceeding $100 billion for the first time. The merchandise trade balance showed a $1.4 billion surplus, while the services trade deficit all but disappeared.

These impressive results point to the success of the Government's integrated bilateral, regional and multilateral trade policy efforts aimed at securing the best possible market access environment for Australian business.

The Market Development Task Force reinvigorated Australia's bilateral trade diplomacy in 1997, and will continue to be a key element of our bilateral strategy in 1998. Wins included better access for Australian sugar, rice and citrus in Japan, and financial services licences in China and Thailand.

Regionally, Australia will continue to advocate economic reform and trade liberalisation which is even more important against the background of the Asian turmoil.

It is encouraging to note that at the APEC meetings last November, APEC members re-affirmed their commitment to achieving the Bogor goals of free and open trade and investment by 2010 / 2020.

And the Government will continue to play its leading role in APEC in pushing hard to accelerate the early liberalisation of 15 priority sectors in which we have vital trade interests.

We also have important multilateral trade objectives for 1998 which reflect the extent to which Australia's economic interests are directly engaged in a strong, comprehensive, rules-based international trading system.

These include a successful Cairns Group Meeting in Sydney next month to advance multilateral agricultural reforms and to build momentum for a new, comprehensive round of trade negotiations by 2000.

This year's Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement also features a new sectoral focus which covers food products, information technology and telecommunications, automotive products, professional services, and the textile, clothing and footwear sectors. This reflects the priority we are giving to sectoral market access efforts through the appointment of special negotiators in my Department.

A series of special reports examine the key trade issues likely to shape Australia's trading environment over the next decade - including environment and competition policy, electronic commerce, intellectual property, and standards and conformance matters.

The Statement concludes a two-year cycle by examining economies not covered in last year's statement.

These include important markets such as the European Union and a number of Asia Pacific economies, as well as a number of emerging markets. I believe that Australian companies that are looking to diversify their export base will find these assessments particularly useful.

Mr Speaker

In this rapidly globalising world, Australia cannot afford to be complacent.

Globalisation offers real advantages to those economies and societies that are genuinely open to innovation and quick to adapt more practical ways of doing things.

It can be a punishing process for those that don't get their houses in order - as we have witnessed recently in the region.
As we head into the 21st Century, Australia's trade policy will need to incorporate a broader and more complex agenda, hand in hand with overall economic policy.

The increasing intensity of worldwide competition means that Australia must push ahead on microeconomic reform, including measures to make our taxation system more competitive and to improve labour productivity.

This - in turn - will require a robust and effective flow of information among Federal, State and Territory governments and the private sector.

In that respect, I cannot emphasise too much the importance of Government and business joining forces and talents to take advantage of new opportunities and meet the challenges that lie ahead.

The Government's trade policy is flexible and pragmatic.

It seeks to build Australia into a truly competitive nation, engaged with the world arena from a position of strength.

It is results-oriented and centres on providing tangible outcomes for Australian business and jobs for Australians.

The 1998 Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement is a sharply focused, clear and comprehensive document that informs the Australian people about what we have achieved over the past year, defines the challenges and obstacles that still need to be overcome, and charts the way ahead for Australia in the regional and international economy.

I commend the Statement to the House.

See the Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement - 1998

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