Imports hit job market -- Free Trade

RISING imports in WA have sounded the death knell for many local manufacturers unable to compete with sweatshop prices.

  About 2500 products costing $9 billion entered the State last year, swamping the local market.

  Many of these products are also produced here by local manufacturers who are struggling against high labour costs and lower government tariffs.

  Massive job losses are a stark reality with factory doors closing as consumers opt for the cheaper brands.

54         THE SUNDAY TIMES, SEPTEMBER 12, 1999
"Imports hit job market"

"A spree -- and the bill shoots up"

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  But the Commerce and Trade Department said WA exported twice as much as it imported last year, earning more than $21 billion for the State.

  It also said the countless jobs generated both directly and indirectly by the export sector far outweighed any losses in manufacturing.

  Many manufacturers have condemned these comments as shortsighted, with one already foreshadowing the demise of the local textile worker.

  Nell Gray Fashion managing director Alan Buckingham said with 80 per cent of the market now produced offshore, the industry would survive but the average worker would not.

  He said increasing international trade pressure from South-East Asia would force him to slash his own workforce by two-thirds in the next few years.

  He blamed high labour costs and lower tariffs for stifling WA's market, which has already seen 3000 jobs lost in the past 15 years.

  "People can't work for a bowl of rice, and employees' wages and add-ons such as superannuation and compensation are killing employers in this State," he said.

  "I can get the fabric in at the same cost, but I can't compete with the overseas prices where they work for $10 a week in appalling conditions.  The irony is that at the end of the day the garment will not be any cheaper and good workers will lose their jobs through no fault of their own."

  Leading industrialists warn the job losses would not be isolated to the textile industry as the market is consumed by globalisation.


  The Australian Manufacturers Workers' Union said 3500 jobs had already been lost this year, and predicted another 10,000 would go in the next few years.

  Assistant State secretary Jock Ferguson said the move towards offshore infrastructure fabrication or "modularisation" was crippling the State's building industry.

  The first states of many large industrial projects are now constructed overseas by foreign workers before the final products are put together in Australia.

  "The problem is the quality of the fabrication often leaves a lot to be desired, and requires a lot of rework by the time it hits our shores," Mr Ferguson said.

  "In reality, Australian workers are far more efficient and produce far superior goods than our overseas competitors."

  Mr Ferguson said a rescue plan was needed to revive the ailing industry before trades and apprenticeships became obsolete.

  "The collapse of the manufacturing industry would spell absolute disaster for the State economy, because every job lost means another three gone in the general workforce," he said. 

  "It basically comes down to, if we can manufacture the goods here ourselves then why import them?"

  Because competition is the name of today's trade game whether it be clothers, steel mills or apples, according to a leading WA fruit grower.


  Chamber of Fruit and Vegetable Industries vice-president John Mercer said every business had to adapt to market forces whether it be local, national or international.

  A spokesman for Trade Minister Hendy Cowan said WA exported twice as many goods as it imported each year.  But, at the same time, the Government actively encouraged consumers to support local businesses through its Birthmark campaign, he said.

  "At the end of the day, unless you have an unlimited income, it does come down to price."

  The State's Opposition called for a bigger promotional push on the Government's part.  Opposition trade spokesman Clive Brown said the buy-local message needed to be brought to the public's attention because people needed to be constantly reminded of its importance. -- ©Anne Calverley, The Sunday Times,  Perth, Western Australia, September 12, 1999, p 54.  A picture was also published above a caption: "JOB CUTS: Nell Gray Fashion managing director Alan Buckingham with some of his workers." 

A spree -- and the bill shoots up

IMPORTS have risen meteorically for consumer goods -- with a 64 per cent growth in textiles, clothes and footwear recorded in the past year.

 Capital goods rose by 4 per cent in seasonally-adjusted terms, but fell in real terms by 9 per cent to $1866 million.

  There was a 4 per cent drop in prefabrication product imports.  Industrial equipment imports rose 9 per cent to $60 million.

  Seasonally adjusted, intermediate and other goods fell $137 million to $3708 million, but in original terms rose to $3953 million.

  The largest increases were seen in fuels, lubricants and processed industrial supplies, reflecting lower imports of goods for processing and subsequent re-export.

  Total imports to WA last financial year cost $9,016,494, 000.

Shopping list
(customs value in $1000s)

  • milk products  (541)
  • butter/fats  (1526) 
  • cheese  (8574) 
  • cereal products  (1486)
  • spaghetti  (2389) 
  • frozen/prepared/preserved vegetables   (4254)
  • fresh fruit  (2017) 
  • fruit juices  (3046)
  • sugar confectionery  (4665)
  • coffee  (2035) 
  • pet food  (4703) 
  • pasta  (1680) 
  • olive oil  (7839) 
  • sauces  (6540)
  • water  (1866) 
  • wine  (2595) 
  • beer  (8378)
  • tobacco  (1657)

-- ©The Sunday Times, Perth, Western Australia, September 12, 1999, p 54


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