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Senate passes Malaysia free trade deal

Channel 9 News, Australia

Senate passes Malaysia free trade deal

29 November 2012

Senators on Thursday approved legislation to implement the agreement, which will lead to almost all Australian goods being able to enter Malaysia free of import duties.

The Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement would guarantee tariff-free entry for 97.6 per cent of recent goods exported from Australia after it comes into force. It would rise to 99 per cent by 2017.

Malaysian exporters would enjoy duty-free entry to the Australian market.

The coalition backed this legislation with Shadow Attorney General George Brandis saying it dated back to 2005 when the former Howard coalition government launched negotiations.

He said Malaysia was Australia’s third largest trading partner in ASEAN and 10th largest partner overall with exports of $5 billion and imports of $9.1 billion in 2011-12.

"Prominent Australian industries are set to benefit from this new trade agreement with Malaysia including the Australian dairy industry," he told the Senate.

Senator Brandis said other Australian industries set to gain from the trade agreement include the local automotive sector, wine, agriculture including sugar, wheat and rice, plastics, processed foods, chemical and a range of manufactured goods.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he queried why Australia was interested in free trade with Malaysia but not in promoting democracy.

"There is no question that Malaysia is an important trading partner. But we must be listening to all sides of Malaysian politics," he said.

"The passage of this free trade agreement should be, must be, conditional on our support of free and fair elections in Malaysia."

Greens leader Christine Milne said the greens had a longstanding position that free trade agreements were not what they were cracked up to be.

"No matter how efficient an Australian farmer, they cannot compete against farmers in other economies if farmers in other economies don’t have to bear the cost of compliance with environmental laws and standards or compliance with labour standards," she said.

"We cannot have free trade agreements in the future unless they take those things into account."

The Senate passed the Customs Amendment (Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2012.