Nearly two months ago, I addressed the Senate on why a trade deal with China was so important to our farmers, and I am absolutely thrilled to be standing here tonight to say that the Abbott-Truss government has once again delivered.
The signing of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement yesterday concludes a powerful trifecta of agreements with our major trading partners in north Asia: Japan, Korea and, now, China. These economies alone already account for more than 60 per cent of our exports of goods.
This is particularly pleasing to me as a Victorian senator because many of these goods, services and commodities come from my home state, which, as Australia's largest food- and fibre-exporting state, is particularly well placed to reap the benefits of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. We are, as we like to call it, the Great State of Ag. Also, one of our key exports is education services.
The China trade agreement itself will give farmers and agriculture access to an export market currently worth around $9 billion, ultimately benefiting our regional communities. I would like to pay particular tribute to the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security in Victoria, Peter Walsh, who over the last three years, as a part of that fabulous government under both premiers, has undertaken super-trade missions right throughout China, Japan, Malaysia and the Gulf States, where our businesses, producers and manufacturers can start building relationships and making those connections that a free trade agreement then allows them to capitalise on. They can then gain access to those markets for the clean, green, fabulous produce of Victoria. Thank you, Premier Napthine and Minister Walsh.
Victoria's largest rural industry are the dairy industry. They made it clear that the outcome they were seeking was an equivalent or better trade deal with China than New Zealand currently has. The industry is understandably delighted that the Australian government has put them on a more competitive footing than their trans-Tasman cousin, in that the China FTA is less restrictive, with most Australian dairy products receiving unlimited preferential access to China's export market, now worth more than $351 million. It will also see tariffs as high as 20 per cent on dairy products eliminated within four to 11 years. This is great news for the Victorian dairy industry, which supplies around 86 per cent of Australia's dairy product exports and employs nearly 20,000 people.
Australian Dairy Farmers confirms that the China free trade agreement will progressively close the gap in the competition with other countries. The Australian Dairy Industry Council chair, Noel Campbell, said that in the long term the FTA:
“… will allow the industry to flourish and capitalise upon robust demand in the Chinese market. The FTA will strengthen Australian dairy's competitiveness by providing our industry with a significant advantage compared to other countries in the market that do not have a FTA with China.” He added: “This is truly a free trade agreement. Australian dairy has been a leading commodity in the negotiations with China; we have campaigned long and hard for a positive outcome and are thrilled to see this come to fruition.”
That is understandably so, with China being Australia's fastest-growing dairy market, with total dairy exports to the region totalling nearly 1.9 million tonnes in 2013 alone. With demand for dairy in this region to rapidly increase in coming years, stable and open trade with China is a key in order for Australian dairy to capitalise on this opportunity for growth. Similarly, the UDV president, Tyran Jones, said: “It would be reasonable to expect that increased world demand for our dairy products should be reflected in increased prices, at the farm gate.”
This goes to the heart of what the government are doing, not only in trade but in the agricultural portfolios, and that is to ensure that we get a greater return to the farm gate, which is exactly what ministers Robb and Joyce have been focused on in negotiating these key agreements.
Other agricultural industries in Victoria will be in a similarly competitive position. Victoria is known for its wine, right through the Yarra Valley, with our Rutherglen shiraz, to our whites up north. The De Bortoli export director said that the trade agreement will make Australia a bigger player on the international wine scene: “This is fantastic news for the Australian wine industry. We've already got a fantastic reputation in China for our premium wines, and this will allow us to compete with other major wine exporters.”
We will receive preferential access—fantastic—against the French, against the Californians and against the South Americans to get our fabulous Australian wines into the market of China.
Horticulture is another key agricultural commodity group within the make-up and diversity of Victoria. Most tariffs ranging from 10 to 30 per cent will be eliminated within four years. This is again welcomed by industry. Ausveg spokesperson Andrew MacDonald said: “This agreement will cement China as a key destination for Australian vegetable exports, and it is hoped that this will benefit regional communities across the country by creating jobs and boosting economies.”'
At the end of the day that is what free-trade agreements are about. They are about local jobs in local communities for Australians. It is a good-news story.
For sheep meat, beef, processed foods et cetera, Senator Abetz went through a raft of measures under the free-trade agreement where regional communities, in particular, can prosper. These opportunities are expected to grow, with ABARES predicting China will account for 43 per cent of all growth worldwide in agricultural demand to 2050. Importantly, in the FTA there are no changes to Australia's risk based quarantine measures.
The resources, energy and manufacturing industries will also benefit.
The agreement includes recognition of all private education institutions, in addition to Australian universities, which are already listed on the official ministry of education website for overseas students. This will provide potential Chinese students with more options of study in Australia and more business for Australian education providers. The Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, also signed an Australia-China Memorandum of Understanding on Student, Researcher and Academic Mobility as part of the New Colombo Plan in China, from 2015. This will facilitate greater mobility for students, researchers and academics between the two countries, a move welcomed by Universities Australia, which stated: “The landmark China-Australia Free Trade Agreement signed in Canberra today will foster an even deeper relationship with China in university education and research.”
While it is disappointing some key commodities were excluded, including wheat, rice, sugar and cotton, the agreement represents the best outcome we could achieve at this time. Importantly, the agreement has a built-in review process so that three years after it enters into force Australia and China will discuss further market access. Nevertheless, the government will continue to press for improved market access for Australian producers and exporters.
Further, while Chinese investments in Australia of up to $1 billion will now be allowed without the need for review, the threshold for scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board has been lowered for agricultural land, to $15 million, in line with the government's election commitment.
Commodities aside, the Australia-China FTA is good news for consumers. When trade barriers fall, prices fall with them. Families will benefit from lower prices for essential family goods.
With the China FTA now secured, the Abbott-Truss government is already focusing on the Indo-Pacific region and negotiating a trade agreement with India over the next 12 months. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, visiting the Australian parliament today, confirmed that there are huge opportunities for a trade partnership in many areas, including agriculture, agro-processing, resources, energy, finance, infrastructure, education and science and technology.
Minister Robb also confirmed trade talks are underway with Indonesia and the Gulf States. At the request of Minister Robb, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is currently holding an inquiry into trade in the Middle East, which saw nearly $15 billion in trade between our two regions last year. It is an area of potential and opportunity.
The Victorian Coalition Government has also been committed to pursuing trade opportunities in the Middle East, through its trade mission program. I know they were very successful ventures by the state government. It is so essential for the state government to continue in office, because whilst Labor was doing nothing at the federal level for so long when it came to delivering trade results back to producers and manufacturers, the state government in Victoria was doing everything. If evidence is anything, right throughout the inquiry we are conducting at the moment, the Victorian government's model of engaging with foreign countries around issues of trade is the stand-out model nationally of how to do business and get it done and how to bring it into your state, grow jobs and grow your local economy. We are looking forward to the re-election of a coalition government in the state of Victoria. If we understand the importance of jobs and increasing productivity and investment, then we have to look to re-electing a Victorian Coalition government, because we know that Labor will not do anything about it.
I commend the Victorian ministers and the Premier and I commend Trade Minister Robb for leadership in this area.