General Motors’ Australian operation says a new free trade agreement between the United States and Australia will strengthen already significant automotive trade between the two countries.

Holden already ships a version of its Monaro coupe for GM’s Pontiac division to sell as the Pontiac GTO at the rate of 18,000 a year.

Holden chairman and managing director, Denny Mooney, said the agreement would provide increased opportunities for both countries to import and export vehicles and components.

He said the flow-on effects from stronger economic growth would benefit the entire automotive industry and drive competition in the marketplace.

“This agreement was a sensible outcome for both markets, offering opportunities for Australia and the United States,” Mooney said.

“It will foster closer business relations with the United States and provide overall benefit for the Australian economy. From the Australian perspective, we believe it will provide the best possible opportunities for Australian carmakers and component manufacturers seeking to export to the United States.

“It is also a positive outcome from an import perspective because Holden is the industry’s largest importer of engine components and transmissions from the United States.

“It is a great boost for any manufacturer or supplier sourcing components from the US because it will make their products more competitive for Australian buyers.”

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade figures showed the United States was the second largest export destination for Australian automotive products in the 2002-03 financial year, at about $A900 million, behind Saudi Arabia. The United States was the second largest automotive product exporter to Australia in 2002-03, totalling $2.5 billion, behind Japan.

Though beaten by Toyota in export units, Holden in 2003 shipped more than 36,000 vehicles around the world, for the company’s second best export year after 1973. As well as the Pontiacs for the US, it ships Chevrolet-badged left-hand drive Commodores to the Middle East and South America.

Long-term, Holden plans 70,000 export sales worldwide. New markets are being investigated in China, Korea and parts of the Asian Asean region.