Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


European Union-Australia Free Trade Agreement

8:00 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It wasn't long ago this nation was referred to as Fortress Australia. It was categorised by high tariffs, trade barriers and limits on international capital investment. While this development strategy was part of our journey to prosperity, by the mid-1980s it had reached the end of its relevancy. The world was about to enter an unprecedented era of global trade and commerce, and Australia was well positioned to take advantage of its unique place in a burgeoning region. It was the Hawke-Keating government that floated the Australian dollar, dismantled trade barriers and opened the floodgates to foreign capital, preparing the nation to reap an unprecedented period of economic growth and prosperity. The Labor legacy is one that both sides of the chamber rightfully celebrate as an important moment in Australia's economic history.

In this the vein, the Albanese government is determined to continue to expand and promote the many national advantages of the global trading system through the ongoing negotiation of the European Union-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The European Union and Australia are natural partners who share a common commitment to the rule of law, democracy, open markets and global trading norms. This creates a strong basis from which a natural expansion of trade should commence. As a bloc, the European Union was Australia's third largest two-way trading partner in 2021-22, as well as our sixth-largest export destination and third-largest services export market. Further, the European Union was Australia's second-largest source of foreign investment in 2021. That's why Australia is seeking an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union to drive Australian exports, economic growth and job creation.

Currently, Australian goods and services face high tariffs from the European Union. This includes 12 per cent on minerals and metals; 10 per cent on wood and paper; and seven per cent on chemicals, with a range of non-tariff trade barriers on agricultural products such as beef, rice and cheese. With the bilateral relationship already extremely developed, imagine the possibilities of fully liberalised trade. I would also like to highlight to my European colleagues that, in a time of high inflation, lower priced Australian exports present a valuable financial lever to bring down costs of kitchen table essentials while also maintaining a first-class product. This is also not to mention the services potential from Australians eager to use their skills in the European union. The European Union comes to benefit from Australian professionals born, raised and educated in Australia, who then migrate to the European Union, contribute to the economy and pay European taxes. A free trade agreement is an opportunity to establish a framework for the mutual recognition of professional licensing and qualifications. That's as well as a greater capacity for skilled professionals entering the European Union labour market.

Further, Australia and the European Union can benefit from both our transparent legal systems to facilitate more mutual investment in safe, predictable business environments. Europeans have an opportunity to reap the rewards of our growing economy and unprecedented opportunities, while Australia can benefit from the additional capital, technologies and ideas emerging from Europe. That's why in my capacity as the chair of the parliamentary friendship groups for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ireland, I will table a letter urging these nations, as proud members of the European Union and European economic area, to expedite negotiations for a fair trade deal for all parties. My co-chairs, Senator Paterson and Senator O'Sullivan, have agreed to co-sign a letter to that end. I look forward to discussing the matter further with our colleagues as we start to exercise the benefits of having our parliament-to-parliament friendship. It's at moments like these that we draw on the travel we do overseas; that we act in the national interest to make sure we get the best possible deal for Australians while extracting a fair deal from those who wish to negotiate.

The Albanese government, in its short time in power, has already implemented trade agreements with India and the United Kingdom—in record time. We're now seeking to strike while the iron is hot. We'll be clear, though, that we will not sign a deal unless it's fair to all parties involved and in line with our national interests.


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