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During the 1980s, attempts to improve the export and import competing performance of local firms were continually frustrated by frequent changes in emphasis by policymakers in Canberra. It is argued that these changes resulted from the industry policy debate being conducted by the Treasury (and IAC) and the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce (and the AMC).

The roots of this debate can be traced to an earlier industry policy debate conducted in the United States. However, while the Australian debate remained within the realm of economic philosophy, its US counterpart has developed to incorporate the interests of domestic corporations, with a renewed emphasis on the importance of demand maintenance and protection as part of an export development strategy.

It is argued that Australian policy in the 1990s should focus on measures to assist local firms to capture export demand, and that the best way of doing this is within an East- Asia/Pacific trading bloc.