The trade future Labor speaks of has already arrived - and it arrived with the Coalition.

Today, Labor trade spokesman Jason Clare, has talked about the need to assist Australian businesses take advantage of the economic opportunities of trading with Asia – yet this is already happening and has been for years thanks to Coalition Governments.

The Coalition concluded free trade agreements (FTAs) with the three North Asian powerhouse economies of China, Japan and Korea which have created new export opportunities for Australian businesses that are driving growth in our economy.

This builds on the Coalition’s track record in the region. The Coalition started and concluded the FTA with Thailand; the FTA with the 10 ASEAN countries, plus NZ and the Coalition started the FTA with Malaysia. I am now finalising an FTA with Indonesia.

Labor’s record on trade is abysmal and their actions speak louder than their rhetoric. It was Labor who cut funding for negotiating the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA). Labor’s rhetoric around economic engagement with Asia is hollow and hypocritical.

It did not take the Coalition until 2017 to realise Asia offers opportunities for Australian businesses to grow. From the signing of the 1957 Commerce Agreement with Japan 60 years ago (which Labor opposed), to the signing of the ChAFTA (which Labor also opposed), the Coalition has been unwavering and clear-eyed about Australia’s engagement with our region.

Labor is talking about upgrading FTAs – again, this is something the Coalition has already done. Recently the Government successfully introduced legislation upgrading our Singapore FTA signed almost 15 years ago. We welcomed Labor’s support.

Australia already has measures in place to test the effectiveness of its FTAs. There is rigorous oversight, primarily through the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which includes Labor parliamentarians. Labor and Clare’s attack on the professionalism of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is extraordinary.  

The skepticism that needs to be addressed is within Labor and the union movement when it comes to trade. We saw it on an unprecedented scale with the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).  So venomous was the opposition that Warren Mundine, a former president of the Australian Labor Party, called the anti-ChAFTA campaign “bigoted” and “xenophobic”.

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