Australia's economic wellbeing and growth depend on a competitive domestic economy and access to foreign markets. Trade policy, industry policy and microeconomic reform all work to provide Australian business with the competitive foundations and opportunities to thrive in an increasingly globalised marketplace.
As with Australia's security interests, Australia's economic interests are most closely engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2001, 72% of Australia's merchandise exports and half of Australian direct foreign investment went to APEC member countries.
Australian trade policy combines bilateral, regional and multilateral efforts that aim to advance Australia's commercial interests, particularly by securing market access. Strategies focus on reducing barriers and developing markets for Australian exports, services and investment.
The WTO is of particular significance to Australia. It is the major forum for global trade liberalisation and, through its rules and disciplines, provides a predictable and more transparent environment for business. It also provides an important means of resolving trade disputes. Australia leads the Cairns Group of WTO member countries seeking fair trade in agricultural products.
The launch of the new round of WTO trade negotiations in Doha, Qatar in November 2001 met a key trade policy goal of Australia. The Doha Declaration gives specific commitment to negotiations on a wide range of issues, including services, industrial products, intellectual property, WTO rules (including anti-dumping), dispute settlement and some trade and environment issues. Ministers set an ambitious timeframe for the negotiations to be concluded by 1 January 2005. A key objective for Australia will be the elimination of export subsidies and significant cuts to domestic support that distort trade in agriculture, as well as significant improvements to market access.
Australia is pursuing several initiatives for free trade agreements (FTAs) with major trading partners which complement our multilateral and regional trade liberalisation efforts. These negotiations aim to deliver substantial market access gains for Australian businesses that could not be achieved in a similar timeframe by other means. We are currently negotiating FTAs with Singapore and Thailand, and are working towards negotiations on an FTA with the United States of America. ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand endorsed a framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) - CER Closer Economic Partnership.
APEC is a significant regional forum for Australia. APEC economies are committed to achieving free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialised economies and by 2020 for developing economies. Australia is committed to achieving this goal, which would bring considerable long-term benefits for Australia and the region. Australia is working in the short and medium terms to ensure substantial progress in the liberalisation programs of individual APEC economies. APEC is the only regional forum which brings together leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region. APEC meetings encourage dialogue between member countries and provide high-level networking opportunities, thereby increasing the level of trust and confidence among regional countries.