State of Trade

15 June 2015

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (11:36):  Thanks very much, Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on this private member's motion about trade, moved by the member for Bass. I am a big supporter of freer trade, and Labor has a proud history when it comes to trade liberalisation. All three of Australia's largest trade barrier cuts—in 1973, 1988 and 1991—were made under Labor governments. In 1973 Whitlam cut tariffs by 25 per cent. In 1988 and 1991 the big tariff cuts under Hawke and Keating are estimated to have put $4,000 into the pockets of average households. Under prime ministers Rudd and Gillard, we had the Asian century white paper and free trade agreements with Chile, Malaysia, ASEAN and New Zealand.

We are supportive of trade liberalisation where it boosts growth, creates jobs, forges competitive industries and gives consumers greater choice and lower prices. The best agreements are multilateral. whereas bilateral or regional agreements are second best but ideally a stepping stone to something more inclusive. I agree with Senator Wong, the shadow minister for trade, who said we need our trade policy to be outward facing, and not inward looking.

Japan, as other members have noted, is already Australia's second largest agricultural export market, and we have got these agreements with Japan and Korea signed in the last little while. We have not opposed those trade deals signed in the last 18 months, but we have raised some concern with parts of the agreements. A lot of the work was done by Labor ministers, including Simon Crean, Richard Marles and also my predecessor, the great Craig Emerson, and they did some very important work on the Japanese and Korean agreements.

Mr Baldwin:  The great Craig Emerson?

Dr CHALMERS: The great Craig Emerson—I take that interjection. He is a wonderful man. As I and other speakers have said, Japan is already Australia's second largest agricultural export market, worth about $4 billion last year and also our second biggest market for non-agricultural goods—something like $42 billion in 2013. Korea is our third largest export market and our fourth largest trading partner, with two-way trade valued at $30.5 billion last financial year.

On this side of the House, our concerns with the Japan agreement were that it did not go far enough on sugar, and our concerns with the Korean agreement were that it had that ISDS investor-state clause, that Labor would not have agreed to in government. But our support for the two agreements with Korea and Japan goes to our support of free trade deals that are on balance good for Australian consumers and businesses.

Labor will take the same approach when it comes to the China agreement and other deals on the horizon. We are expecting the full details of the China deal to be released this week. It should have been released already, and we know it has been finished for some time. When we do come to examine it, Labor will determine on balance if it is in Australia's interests. We hold concerns about key agricultural goods being left out and that it will have an ISDS provision, and we are concerned, as other speakers have said, about the likely labour market arrangements as well. But we also recognise this is an historic opportunity to expand Australia's trade with China, something both sides of the House are interested in.

The National Australia Bank, for example, says that the agreement offers considerable potential for Australian agricultural and services firms and will level the playing field with other countries that already have an FTA with China. So when we consider the China deal in detail, we will factor in these advantages for Australian producers and consumers.

We also saw the Trans-Pacific Partnership make the news this weekend as the US Congress voted down the President's Trade Promotion Authority, as the member for Perth mentioned in her contribution. Two weeks ago, I participated in a forum hosted by the member for Canberra, with the member for Perth and 100 or more locals interested in the TPP. It was great to see the community so keen to understand the complex issues at play in that partnership.

Labor does have some real concerns about what we know about the partnership so far, especially when it comes to copyright restrictions, pharmaceuticals and investor-state settlement mechanisms. We do need a full and proper discussion of the merits of any agreement so that we can come to an on-balance assessment of the deal and decide whether it is in Australia's national interests. That is why the government should undertake some real economic modelling of the deal. We know from our briefings that this has not been carried out, and we call on the minister for trade to undertake detailed economic modelling of the TPP so we can get a better understanding of its merits.

Trade is attracting a great deal of interest not just in this parliament but around the community. That is a good thing if it helps us reach a considered position consistent with our beliefs and beneficial for our economy. We are supportive of some of the work done to reach agreements over the last 18 months, but we need to ensure that the China agreement and the TPP, and all trade agreements on the horizon, are in the national interest. If they are, and if they are good for jobs and consumers, we will support them.