House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail

6:54 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

To quote Resources Minister King from question time today, one in four Australian jobs is trade related. What this means is that Australia's economic future will be put at risk if the Albanese government doesn't continue to build on Australia's existing trade relationships and international reputation as we face trade challenges in an increasingly volatile world.

Whilst in government, the coalition pursued an ambitious agenda of diversifying our trade markets and opening up new market opportunities. Taking into account the Australia-UK FTA and the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement, which passed through the House this week, the coalition government has negotiated 11 trade agreements since 2013, lifting the share of Australia's trade covered by FTAs from around 25 per cent in 2013 to almost 80 per cent today. But there are still many trade opportunities to be pursued, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

In February 2021, the former Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan, announced the commencement of the investigation into how best to strengthen trade and investment with Israel, including a potential FTA. Also in 2021, the Gulf Cooperation Council announced renewed interest in pursuing an FTA with Australia. The GCC, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is an established market for Australian agriculture produce, including live animals, meat, dairy, vegetables, sugar, wheat and other grains, with trade accounting for $11 billion in 2021. In March 2022, Minister Tehan and his United Arab Emirates counterpart, His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, announced that Australia and the UAE would pursue a comprehensive economic partnership agreement. Labor announced a trade diversification policy at the last election, but I note this did not include commitments to any new trade agreements, nor any reference to our valuable Middle Eastern markets. Minister, now you're in government, I would like to ask whether Minister Farrell has progressed any of the aforementioned feasibility studies or negotiations with the Middle East.

Continuing on, I note the Middle East is an important market and friend to Australia. In times of global uncertainty, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the current conflict in the Ukraine, the food security of the Middle East has come under considerable threat. Transport arteries through the Black Sea have been compromised, restricting movements of grain and other products. And the current government remains committed to closing the live sheep export trade, most of which originates from my home state of Western Australia. This policy was announced by a group called the Australian Alliance for Animals during the election campaign. Can you imagine the horror of the farmers and producers and our customers in the Middle East during those days in the campaign when the then spokesman, the member for Franklin, jumped around with a different position from day to day, not having a clue what the actual policy was?

Finally, we have landed with the current minister Watt stating that this phase-out will not occur during this term of government but he remains resolved to phase the industry out. This is at odds with WA Premier Mark McGowan, who believes that animal welfare advances made since the unfortunate Awassi Express incident now provide the transparency and welfare assurances the general public needs. While both Minister Watt and Minister Farrell maintain the live-export ban will not extend to cattle, unfortunately this will happen by default, as most of the cattle exported to the Middle East travel on multidestination live sheep carriers.

Feedback that I've received from Australian exporters and their Middle Eastern destination markets is that closure of this important trade in animal protein could signal a change in our broader trading relationship. I know Agriculture Minister Watt has received correspondence from his Kuwaiti counterpart emphasising the decades-old Kuwait-Australia trade relationship and the scope for expansion of agribusiness, energy sector service and equipment, education, tourism and other services, as well as reiterating that Kuwait is one of our largest Middle Eastern investors in Australia. This letter outlined their cultural preference for fresh meat over frozen or chilled and the greater halal confidence that locally processed meat provided over a product certified by non-Muslim countries. Presuming this concern would be shared by other Middle Eastern live export destination countries, I asked the minister: has the Albanese had any conversations with our Middle Eastern trading partners regarding the broader trade ramifications of the phase out of the live sheep trade to the Middle East?


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