House of Representatives

Customs Amendment (Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement Amendment Implementation) Bill 2017

Second Reading Speech

Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff-Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Customs Amendment (Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement Amendment Implementation) Bill 2017 amends the Customs Act 1901 to implement Australia's obligations under new chapter 3 of the Singapore-Australian Free Trade Agreement as inserted by the agreement to amend the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or SAFTA.

In June 2015, the prime ministers of Australia and Singapore announced the launch of the Singapore-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), an initiative to strengthen and deepen our two countries' strategic, trade, economic, defence, and people-to-people links.

The amendments in SAFTA are the key economic plank of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

It reflects Australia and Singapore's unwavering commitment to the principles of free and open trade.

The conclusion of yet another high-quality trade deal demonstrates the coalition's commitment to pursuing new and expanded opportunities for Australian exporters and small businesses.

Our FTAs are delivering significant economic benefits and driving strong growth in the value of Australia's exports.

Opening up export markets is at the core of the government's economic strategy and we're focused on delivering even greater access to global markets for Australian businesses.

I had the honour of signing the agreement to amend the SAFTA with my Singaporean counterpart, Minister for Trade and Investment Mr Lim Hng Kiang, on 13 October 2016 in Canberra.

I acknowledge the work of my predecessor, the Hon. Andrew Robb, and his commitment to taking our economic relationship with Singapore to the next level.

This is our most comprehensive update to a free trade agreement to date, and a demonstration of the government's commitment to a modern and agile trade agenda in the face of global headwinds.

As the makeup of our economy and the needs of business change, so too must the rules that govern our international trade.

Australia requires modern trade agreements, which create opportunity across our diverse and largely service-driven economy.

SAFTA makes it easier for Australian businesses to export into Singapore-a natural gateway to South-East Asia.

Under these changes, a new chapter 3 sets out new rules-of-origin criteria and related documentary requirements for determining the eligibility of goods to obtain preferential tariff entry into Australia under the amended agreement.

The complementary Customs Tariff Amendment (Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement Amendment Implementation) Bill 2017 will amend the Customs Tariff Act 1995 to set out Australia's tariff commitments under the agreement.

These amendments demonstrate the coalition's commitment to Australia's economic relationship with Singapore.

Since entry into force under the Howard government in 2003, the SAFTA has provided a strong platform for the expansion of our economic and trade relationship with Singapore, a 21st century economy and a gateway to the rest of Asia.

SAFTA is a great example of how modern FTAs can boost trade. Since this deal was first signed in 2003:

our bilateral trade relationship has grown by over 80 per cent; and
bilateral investment has grown by more than 350 per cent.

This puts Australian suppliers on an even footing with foreign competitors, with a framework for mutual recognition of qualifications-particularly for engineers and for accountants.

Singapore is now our fourth-largest export market for services.

Complementing existing tariff-free entry for goods, the updated rules of origin will simplify administration and reduce the compliance costs for traders.

The amended agreement contains simplified and trade-facilitative rules of origin, updated product specific rules, and related documentary requirements.

Goods imported into Australia that meet the new rules of origin, implemented through this bill, will be entitled to claim preferential tariff treatment in accordance with the amended agreement.

The amended agreement also includes relevant record keeping and related obligations on Australian exporters and producers who wish to export Australian goods to Singapore under the agreement and obtain preferential treatment for those goods in Singapore.

When the amended agreement enters into force, it will deliver significant benefits for Australian service providers with greater access and certainty in sectors such as education, law, financial and professional services.

Singapore has given Australia the most favourable treatment, putting our exporters on an equal or better footing than our foreign competitors in the Singapore market.

Singapore has also agreed to recognise the juris doctor degrees of Australian universities currently listed in the amended agreement, providing access for those universities that have moved to a graduate model of legal education.

Australia and Singapore will also establish a framework under the amended agreement to support mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Priority will be given to arrangements for engineers and accountants, with Singapore and Australia agreeing to commence negotiations on mutual recognition arrangements.

Australian lawyers and financial service providers will enjoy improved access to Singapore's legal and financial services markets.

The amended agreement will create new opportunities for businesses to bid for high-value government procurement contracts in Singapore, including in sectors such as road transport, construction and engineering.

The amended agreement will improve mobility and lengths of stay for Australian businesspeople and their spouses and dependants.

It will include modern outcomes on telecommunications services and ecommerce, and harmonise trade rules in goods, services and investment, thereby reducing red tape for businesses.

The amended agreement will also extend to investors from Singapore-our fifth-highest source of foreign investment-the same Foreign Investment Review Board screening thresholds applicable to our other free trade agreement partners.

We are also supporting innovation exchange between Australia and Singapore by establishing a landing pad for Australian entrepreneurs and start-ups-which I visited just two weeks ago while in Singapore.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, under the chairmanship of the member for Fadden, has finalised its report on the agreement to amend the SAFTA, recommending binding treaty action.

In view of the sitting schedule, the benefits to Australian businesses, and the importance to the parliament and the community of seeing the limited changes that are required to be made, we are introducing the implementing legislation at this time.

Some amendments to subordinate legislation, as set out in the national interest analysis, will also be required in due course.

I commend this legislation to the House.

Debate adjourned.