Trading our way to Greater Prosperity and Security

  • Op ed

Australia is facing major economic challenges, with high inflation, painful price rises and falling real wages making life harder and less affordable for many.

The international trading environment is also weathering difficult times, and some major economies risk of falling into recession. With the pandemic still testing global supply chains, Russia's invasion of Ukraine pushing up food, fuel and energy prices, and chronic skills shortages it is harder than ever for business to compete on the world stage.

Australia's future prosperity will, in part, depend on how well we can adapt to the challenging circumstances we face.

Trade, as a force for good, offers opportunities for prosperity and economic security, and the Australian Government is focused on ensuring our trade agenda addresses these challenges and delivers for the entire community.

We must continue reaching out to the world, to deepen trade ties and explore new opportunities. Because Australia is economically stronger when global trade flows freely.

More trade, not less, is a key part of how we build the type of economic future we want in Australia.

We want to see more and better paying jobs, which we know trade delivers. We want to broaden and deepen our international trading relationships so Australian businesses have more options when they are looking for export destinations.  

To achieve this, the Government is working to four principles to guide our approach to trade and investment for the times we are in.

Firstly, we have learnt the hard way, not to place all our trade eggs in the one basket. In business, relying on one major client is a high-risk strategy.  That is why we are focussed on opening doors for businesses to diversify and strengthen broader trade relations that will underpin stable, high-paying jobs here in Australia.

To that end, we are on track to complete all parliamentary processes this month to implement trade deals with the United Kingdom and India, with entry into force once those countries have completed their own domestic processes.

We are leading efforts to create an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which will facilitate trade and investment flows in the region. We have reinvigorated trade negotiations with the European Union and aim to finalise a Free Trade Agreement by mid next year. Last month I signed the landmark Australia-Singapore Green Economy Agreement, and we are developing a Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040.

Prime Minister Albanese is currently travelling to Southeast Asia to prosecute Australia's trade objectives, including at the Business 20 Summit which will bring together more than 1,000 CEOs, investors and senior executives from Australia, the Indo-Pacific region, and across the world.

Secondly, we must defend and reform the multilateral system. The package of outcomes we negotiated at the World Trade Organization's 12th Ministerial Conference in June – including working with our Pacific family to achieve an agreement, to end harmful fisheries subsidies along with agreed steps toward WTO reform – showed that progress is still possible. Australia, as an open trading nation with a medium-sized economy, derives great benefit from a healthy multilateral trading system that is underpinned by robust rules.

Thirdly, we need to diversify not just who we trade with, but what we trade. Attracting investment, including foreign investment, will be an important plank in supporting diversification, bringing in new capital, capability, and resources. As a leading producer of critical minerals, we are working to promote investment opportunities in Australia's critical minerals sector and green technologies to position Australia as a renewable energy superpower.

The Government's strong action on climate change has put us back in lockstep with the rest of the world, putting Australia in the front row to capitalise on the trade and investment opportunities from the global transition to net zero.

And finally, we believe the benefits of trade must be shared more fairly amongst the community. Sharing the benefits starts with how we involve the community in the trade policy process. Our Trade 2040 Taskforce will bring together government, industry, union, and community representatives to consult on how we seek to shape our trade with the world.

As Australia faces significant economic and geostrategic challenges, a strong economy will be an important contributor to our national security.

Even in this difficult environment, we have plenty going for us.

It's not quite six months since the election, but it's been a very active six months. In the trade portfolio, we've been straight out of the blocks, and we're just getting started.

The Albanese Government's trade agenda will open the doors of opportunity and I am determined to seize this with both hands.

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