Address to the Multi-Chamber International Business Luncheon

  • Transcript, E&OE

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands we’re meeting on.

Thank you to the Italian Chamber of Commerce for hosting this lunch.

Australia benefits so much from Italian companies, in sectors from energy to infrastructure to agribusiness.

Italian migration is one of Australia’s great success stories. Descendants of Italian migrants are now leaders – from government, to business, food, wine, the arts, and sport.

This is the case for so many our migrant communities.

Your greatest export though, in my humble opinion, is one Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

First, I want to address the issue I know is on everyone’s minds.

As you know, we weren’t able to come to an agreement on the EUFTA in Japan.

It’s obviously disappointing – but as you all know, free trade agreements can be a tricky business, and any deal needs to be in our national interest in order to be agreed to.

My assessment was that the EU was asking too much, and offering too little, to conclude a fair deal which benefitted both sides.

This isn’t the end of the road – the EU is still an important partner for Australia, and it will continue to be a significant market and a significant investor for Australian businesses.

For example, I mentioned Italian cuisine before – we all know how good Italian food is, but what many Australians don’t know is that Italy is one of the largest food processors in Europe, with a huge food and beverage manufacturing sector.

And Italian manufacturers’ expertise has direct applications in Australia.

Italy’s Guala Closures Group is a world leader in the production of closures for the drinks industry – including aluminium screwcaps, which are the undisputed closure of choice for winemakers in Australia and New Zealand. Guala has had a presence in Australia since 2008, and produces 600 to 700 million closures a year.

Australia is a key market for the Guala Closures Group, and supports our wine export ambitions.

And then there is Dr. Schär, which develops and distributes gluten-free and other specialised nutrition products, is working with the University of Adelaide and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development of Western Australia on an innovative project to cultivate niche grain crops as part of their commitment to greater biodiversity.

That partnership was based on Australia’s diverse growing and climatic conditions, excellent academic research and vibrant and forward-looking community of growers.

There are hundreds of other examples of trade and investment between Australia and Italy, and other EU countries.

So while it may take some time, we’ll keep working towards the EUFTA, alongside work on a range of other agreements.

Because as we look at the geopolitical tensions and conflict around the world, at the global challenges we’re all facing, we know that the answer isn’t to close ourselves off.

The answer is to build on our friendships around the world, and build our cooperation and our agreements.

Because we are, and will remain, the Government of free, fair and open trade.

I am happy to be here today to offer an update on Australia’s trade priorities, which are based on our pillars of diversification; multilateralism; and inclusivity.

Firstly – Australia is continuing to pursue a range of free trade agreements.

As I’ve said, negotiations regarding the EUFTA will continue, but there will be European Parliament elections next year, and the appointment of a new Commission.  

It’s always harder to finalise these agreements on the eve of elections, so it could be some time before both governments are ready to reconvene the negotiations.

We’ve upgraded the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, which includes a range of new and upgraded provisions, as well as ASEAN’s first dedicated trade and sustainable development chapter. This will facilitate enhanced cooperation on labour standards, environmental protection, the green and blue economy, and women’s economic empowerment.

Australia and India are now progressing the negotiation of an ambitious Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, building on our initial trade agreement which entered into force on 29 December 2022.

We’ve had several rounds of negotiations so far, and we are focussed on going further on new areas of cooperation such as digital trade and government procurement.

And CPTPP parties and the United Kingdom are in the process of undertaking the domestic treaty processes needed for the UK to join the CPTPP.

We’re also expanding our strategic relationships with our key trading partners. That includes through recent engagement with Japan in their G7 host year, and New Zealand in the 40th year of our Closer Economic Relations Agreement.

Importantly, we’re continuing to work closely with China, our largest trading partner. I recently went to Shanghai with the Prime Minister, to visit China’s biggest trade expo. That marked another positive step in the stabilisation of our relationship.

There are still challenges ahead, but also opportunities. And we’ll keep on working sensibly through our issues.

Moving to Southeast Asia, we’ve recently released Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, a report to the Government from the Special Envoy for Southeast Asia, Nicholas Moore AO.

I’ve seen first-hand how exciting and full of opportunity this region is in my visits to Vietnam and the Philippines, and I’m looking forward to engaging more in 2024.

Importantly, we recognise the centrality of ASEAN to the region, and we’re looking forward to welcoming ASEAN leaders to Melbourne in March for a special summit to commemorate 50 years of partnership.

As you know, Australia is a trading nation.

And so, we’ll continue to advocate for strengthening and reforming the WTO – an organisation we need to help tackle global trade challenges into the future. That is why we are pushing for the WTO 13th Ministerial Conference to be focused on reform. It is also why we are working hard to address the dispute settlement system, which is not currently working as it should.

WTO rules underpin the global trading system, a system that is absolutely fundamental to Australia’s prosperity and security. A system vital to our region’s economic progress and stability, and the commercial interests of our businesses.

Another key component of our global economic architecture of course, is APEC. And my recent visit, along with the Prime Minister, to San Francisco for the APEC and IPEF Ministerial Meetings was a significant opportunity to strengthen an open trade and investment environment.

In just over 12 months since negotiations first commenced, I was delighted to join my fellow IPEF Ministers to announce substantial conclusion of three new regional agreements which will lift and align trading standards, and protect supply chains so that trade flows more freely in the Indo-Pacific region.

You know that this Government is committed to supporting businesses to diversify their trade opportunities well into the future.

We’ve been engaging broadly with businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders – that has been a priority for this Government, as we seek to ensure the benefits of trade are shared by all.

The Trade 2040 Taskforce met for the first time earlier this month, bringing together leaders from across Australia in government, industry, unions, academia and civil society to serve as a key consultation body to inform Australia’s trade policy to 2040.

That mix is purposeful – we’re putting people with diverse expertise and experience at the centre of our trade policy to make sure Australia is best placed to harness trade opportunities in the decades to come.

And one of the many clever people on the taskforce, Ms Flavia Tata Nardini, is originally from Italy. Flavia is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Fleet Space Technologies, and she’s now based in my own hometown of Adelaide – just as good as Rome, I think.

We’ve got an exciting forward agenda next year, and I’m looking forward to keeping you all updated.

Thank you to everyone for being here today, and especially to our host, the Italian Chamber of Commerce.

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