Speech to the Sydney Institute

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good evening.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we meet and pay respects to their elders past and present.

Thanks to the Sydney Institute for inviting me to speak, and congratulations to the Institute for reaching the milestone of 35 years in public affairs.

The world was a very different place in 1989 when the institute was established.

Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, and the Australian economy was just starting to open to the world.

Our exports totalled around 35 billion dollars, and our imports were around 40 billion.

Today, Australia's two-way trade has expanded to around 1 trillion dollars.

It's fair to say that the opening of our economy set us on a path of greater prosperity.

The economic reforms by the Hawke-Keating Labor Governments in the 1980s and 90s was the right path to take.

It positioned Australia well to take full advantage of the global opportunities created by the outcomes of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations and the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995.

Fast forward to 2024 and trade continues to be a force for good in addressing Australia's current and future economic challenges

  • 1 in 4 Australian jobs relate to trade
  • Jobs in export industries pay 5 per cent more on average; and
  • 27 per cent of Australia's economic output is supported by trade.

This evening, I want to talk about the Albanese Labor Government's approach to trade policy and how we are delivering outcomes for businesses, workers and everyday Australians.

In particular, I will cover economic engagement with China, India, South-East Asia, and the United Arab Emirates.

On China, when we came to government, our bilateral relationship was in a difficult place.

China's trade impediments were affecting a range of Australian exports, worth over twenty billion dollars.

Political-level dialogue had broken down – so we sought to reverse that.

The relationship needed stabilising in the interests of both countries.

Over the past two years, that's exactly what the Albanese Government has done.

We acknowledge our differences, but we seek to manage those differences wisely and always act in Australia's national interest.

I have met my Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, six times now, and have pressed for all trade impediments to be removed.

Since the day I took the job as Australia's Trade Minister, I have sought to resolve trade issues via dialogue, rather than dispute.

We're seeing the benefits of this constructive engagement.

Only ten days ago China announced that all import duties on Australian bottled wine would be lifted.

We welcome this outcome, which comes at a critical time for the Australian wine industry which is facing a range of challenges.

Since 2020, China's duties on Australian wine effectively made it unviable for Australian producers to export bottled wine to that market.

This outcome paves the way for Australian producers and exporters to again supply our world-class wine to discerning Chinese consumers.

I know first-hand that Chinese consumers are eager buy our wines.

And who can blame them?

This is the latest example of how our calm and consistent approach is delivering for Australian businesses, workers and exporters.

Overall, $20 billion worth of trade impediments by 2019 figures has been reduced to less than $1 billion.

But we want that figure reduced to zero.

The Government continues to press for the removal of the remaining trade impediments on live rock lobster and a number of red meat export establishments.

The fact is, China is our largest trading partner and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

But that's not to say we can't continue to grow opportunities for Australian business – reopening these markets in China as well as expanding exports to other markets.

That is why I will continue encouraging Australian businesses and exporters to diversify trade into new markets; including through trade agreements this Government implemented with India and the United Kingdom.

The Indian market is one of the fastest growing in the world and home to 1.4 billion people.

The Albanese Government fast-tracked legislation to bring the Australia-India trade agreement into force at the end of 2022.

This agreement eliminates tariffs on more than 85 per cent of Australian exports to India.

And gives Australian exporters a competitive advantage in the Indian market.

Trade figures for the first 12 months of this trade agreement show Australia's industrial exports rose by 35 per cent and our agricultural exports by almost 60 per cent.

I'm confident this two-way trade will continue to grow well into the future.

Deeper engagement with Southeast Asia is also a key priority for the Albanese Government.

Last month we hosted in Melbourne a terrific ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

There were some incredible announcements to come out of that Summit which will supercharge our trade and investment in the region:

We are establishing a $2 billion Southeast Asia Investment Financing Facility to accelerate Australian investment in key sectors such as infrastructure and clean energy.

We've got regional 'Landing Pads' and Investment Deal Teams in Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore to support our tech-sector launch and facilitate more Australian trade and investment into this fast growing region.

And we have a new Southeast Asia Business Exchange program to get more Australian boots on the ground and learn what it takes to export into this dynamic markets.

These are just a few of the things we're doing to deepen our ties with Southeast Asia.

ASEAN as a bloc is going to be the world's fourth biggest economy by 2040.

We are underdone in Southeast Asia – and we see ASEAN not only as an enormous growth opportunity for Australian business, but also as a key destination to diversify our trade – both imports and exports.

Looking further afield, last year the Albanese Government made the decision to negotiate a trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates – our largest trade and investment partner in the Middle East.

When I visited Abu Dhabi in February to attend the World Trade Organization's 13th ministerial conference, I met with senior ministers and business representatives of the UAE to progress negotiations and promote stronger investment ties.

The UAE is the gateway to the middle east, and a trade agreement would open up new commercially meaningful opportunities for our businesses and exporters seeking to diversify trade.

It will also unlock massive opportunities to deepen our cooperation in our shared ambition to transition to net-zero, through greater investment.

Both sides are committed to progressing the negotiations as swiftly as possible.

In summary, the Government's message to business is to continue to diversify markets, and to take advantage of some of the great opportunities provided through trade agreements.

I've always believed that Australia is a trading nation and the future of our country, our economy and our prosperity, depends on trade.

Thank you and I'm happy to take any questions.

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