Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum

  • Speech, check against delivery
Topics: CPTTP, Coronavirus, Bush Fires, Trade and Investment.
14 February 2020

Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much Jennifer for that very warm introduction. And good morning everyone. Good morning and thank you all for joining us here, and particularly for coming here first thing on a Friday morning after what I understand has been a late Thursday night. Can I begin by acknowledging, of course, the co-chair and Jennifer — who just provided that warm introduction — to all of the leaders here. But especially, can I also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Melbourne area and the people of the Kulin nation and extend my respect to elders past, present and emerging. But to acknowledge all Australia's Indigenous peoples — our first peoples but also our first traders across those first nations but also beyond our shores importantly; and with people like the Makassans, who are now part of Indonesia and elsewhere.

Can I also acknowledge Rob Oliphant, It was a wonderful pleasure to be able to spend a little bit of time with Rob before — Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Canada. And Rob, thank you very much to you and your delegation for making the time to journey to Australia and for your commitment to, not only the Australia-Canada relationship, but to the many values that we share together as nations. The friendship between Australia and Canada has been on full display over the past few months as many would appreciate here in Australia, especially here in Victoria, many have faced the impact of the bushfires. We have appreciated very greatly the messages of support from Prime Minister Trudeau and other Canadians; also the generosity shown through donations; the solidarity of Canadian firefighters who have battled side by side with our own teams. And I know that I speak for all Australians in saying how immensely grateful we are for that support that we have received and, of course, how proud we've been as friends to be able to provide similar support, such as during the 2017 British Columbia wildfires.

It's a demonstration of the mutual assistance that great friends, great mates provide to one another. I know that I also speak for all Australians in expressing our condolences to the families and the people of Canada for the loss of lives in Ukraine Flight PS752 — a true tragedy and, as our Prime Minister reiterated at the time; Australia stands ready to support our Canadian friends in any way as they deal with the ongoing consequences of a tragedy like that.

To all those from Canada who have made the trip, thank you for coming to Melbourne, thank you for coming to Australia. There's no better way that you can demonstrate that Australia is not actually all burnt out despite some of the erroneous maps that are circulated online. That we are still open for business; and that by being here and by tweeting, Instagram-ing, Facebook-ing, whatever your chosen method it is — various pictures -where I hope you will get out to some spectacular Yarra Valley wineries or head along the Great Ocean Road and see the magnificent sights of Victoria, or venture further afield into Australia — sending a strong signal that we are very much open for business, open for tourism, open for investment.

We remain one of the safest places in the world to travel, offering great and unique experiences and most importantly, for those who now say, how can we help Australia following the fires — if I take off my Trade Minister’s hat and put on my Tourism Minister's hat — I would simply say make a booking. Make a booking to come and visit, come back for a holiday, encourage your friends to do so as well. You have great familiarity in our nation as Australians do when we visit your nation. Australia and Canada are two massive, sparsely populated countries — each spanning a continent from west coast to east coast; and our geographies are vast, our populations diverse. We have thriving metropolises, snowy mountains – you've got more of those than we do — wild coasts, rich forests, and a vast outback – we've got more of that one. These geographies present real challenges for both of us, but we are both resilient countries as well.

Both our countries are also now faced with the unknown effects of coronavirus and we share with the rest of the globe the challenges in grappling with those uncertainties. Like bushfires we can't always predict how things will unfold and we can't yet be sure of the impacts of the virus beyond the families and communities immediately affected. So, while addressing people's safety must always be our number one priority, we, especially those of us in roles that rely upon and are responsible for economic management, must also consider, like you as business leaders, the long-term implications.

We know for sure that, whatever the uncertainties that exist, now is not a time to withdraw from the world or to put up barriers to economic discourse. Ensuring that full trade flows resume and ideally continue to grow once this crisis is behind us. As two countries whose prosperity is underpinned by open trade and investment settings, we know how crucial they are. Australia and Canada have a strong relationship, and I'll spare you all the diplomatic clichés about partnerships and so on, everyone just knows we’re great mates. I do however, want to pay tribute to those of you who are here who’ve helped to create, in an economic sense, such strong trade but also particularly strong investment ties. Of AUD$7.4 billion in two-way trade in 2018, that no doubt can be more but it is growing more strongly than it has in the past. Critically though, total two-way investment is worth a strong $126 billion, including $70.7 billion in direct foreign investment.

Crucially, more than 100 Australian businesses have a significant Canadian presence, employing more than 20,000 people across Canada. Companies, most of you I suspect represented here today, BHP, Rio, Transurban, IFN, Newcrest, WorleyParsons, Plenary, Navitas, it's a long list and a diverse list in terms of the industry sectors. And what matters is how such engagement, investment and trade  - it doesn't just drive statistics — but actually makes a difference to the standard of living for Australians and Canadians. Improved economic outcomes are about the human dividend, better health, better education, the opportunity to enjoy higher quality lifestyles through access to more, better, cheaper goods and services or access to ideas, and greater prosperity overall.

Those of you here this week I know continue to urge our governments to pursue economic integration and to further remove barriers to trade and investment. A little over a year ago, we did just that, when our two countries brought into force the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Doing so alongside Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam, and we are continuing to work to secure the ratification of the remaining parties. It is the first modern, high-quality free trade agreement to exist between Australia and Canada. That's kind of surprising in some ways that it took the two of us so long. And I think, notably in terms of the quality of the CPTPP, it was perhaps the most significant achievement in trade liberalisation in terms of its reach and the quality of that agreement since the signing of the WTO agreement in 1994. It's a credit to the eleven countries who banded together to sign the CPTPP, even after the withdrawal of the US, and amid calls from some across many nations to abandon the agreement altogether. We held our nerve, we found solutions to remaining barriers, and we achieved something that is now, in terms of trade text, used as a model that others refer to and point to for replication elsewhere.

And since the agreement came into force between our two countries, our total two-way trade is up some 18.9 per cent. Australian exports to Canada have increased 14.4 per cent,  including across our key agricultural categories such as sheep meat up 11.2 per cent. Important though this growth is from an Australian perspective, we're not one to subscribe to a binary mercantilist approach that occurs in some nations. We welcome the fact that two-way trade, two-way trade, has grown even more, giving Australian consumers more choices at lower prices. Imports from Canada are up 22.8 per cent, including products such as beauty products and makeup, medical and surgical instruments as well. But most important, beyond those goods trade opportunities and the opportunities for enhanced economic integration; sharing value chains that create efficiencies or generate new investment opportunities that help us both, and to thrive by growing each of our economies and thereby creating more opportunities for all of our peoples. There, I underline the word, all. Because as Jennifer referenced, I'm delighted to hear about the Australian-Canada Indigenous Economic Partnership that is being launched today by this leadership forum. Growing the indigenous economy is an important priority for both our nations and there is enormous potential for us to work together to increase Indigenous participation in international trade.

One of the signature achievements that I think our Government fails to speak about often enough, is our work in terms of securing enhanced levels of government procurement from Indigenous owned and operated Australian businesses. It is an outstanding model, and it is something that I think we want in other areas of our activity to build upon, and certainly in my role as Tourism Minister, I'm very determined to try to encourage strong growth amongst Indigenous Australian tourism businesses, and I know that again there we can learn much from and cooperate greatly with Canada. This forum coincides with 80 years of diplomatic relations between our countries. In truth though, official connections are much older. It's 125 years since Canada's first Trade Commissioner arrived in Sydney, and our people of course have a long history of bravery side by side, all the way back to the Western Front. We have, as you know, common language, shared heritage, deep commitment to democracy, freedom, rule of law, open markets, that drives us to continue to believe that economic liberalisation and open trade settings can lead to more jobs and more choice to increase opportunity to reduce disadvantage, and the credibility that exists between us, to open up third country markets to benefit both Australia and Canada. It's this credibility to advocate for open markets, without leaving people behind, which gives us such strong standing to work together on global trade challenges, including the defence of the WTO and the rules-based order. Unfortunately, though, the WTO and rules-based order is under pressure which encourages protectionist sentiment to emerge from some dormant quarters.

Australia is working hard with like-minded partners, like Canada, to ensure that the WTO has rules and a dispute resolution mechanism that can supply the certainty which enables businesses to make long term investments with confidence. The rules and institutions in the WTO have served each of us, and the world, well. But to maintain their credibility and strength, we must also make sure that we undertake the reforms necessary to keep the WTO system relevant. It must have an effective dispute resolution function and therefore we must find a way forward on the appellate body impasse. In doing so we need to have a goal of resuming a multilateral system of second tier review that addresses the needs of all WTO members. We need to acknowledge though that the system does require reform, as we've been saying for years through discussions in Geneva on the dispute settlement system. Now, until we find a multilateral solution, we will be working with a number of our other trading partners on an interim arrangement that enables the continued functioning of such an appeal system. Indeed, Canada, Australia and others at Davos announced the fact that we were pursuing such a solution. A successful final multilateral outcome will only be developed with  support of all WTO members. That includes by nature the United States, who do hold a number of concerns on dispute settlement practices that we should address in reforms to the WTO’s operations. We stand ready to work to find a way forward that brings all together. I want to acknowledge the leadership role that Canada has played in progressing our shared interests in WTO reform, through the formation of the Ottawa group. This is a valuable forum for working through the key challenges facing the global trading system and exploring reform ideas. It's proven to be a central incubator of ideas for modernisation and improvement. Australia's been proud, and I've been pleased, to work as part of the Ottawa group. And I do want to pay tribute to my former colleague in terms of counterpart in the trade portfolio in Canada, Jim Carr, for his work in establishing that and to publicly wish Jim well with his health challenges at present.

As major competitive and productive agricultural nations, Australia and Canada both rely on market oriented, fair and transparent agricultural trading laws. Our agriculture sector underpins the livelihood of our rural communities and for Australia and Canada our economic prosperity more broadly. That's why through the Cairns Group Australia and Canada are leading the way to reset the global discussions on agricultural domestic support. The Cairns Group had been somewhat dormant in recent years but we have brought it back to life through discussions at Davos, ahead of this year's WTO Ministerial Council. Why have we done that? Well, because by some estimates the world is on track to having over $2 trillion US dollars in domestic agricultural subsidies washing through the global economy by 2030. We need to prevent the very significant distortions that such levels of support have on trade in agriculture. We also need to sustain the momentum for other reforms to ensure the WTO keeps pace with modern commercial realities. Modernising the WTO rule book by progressing talks in e-commerce, which Australia has been pleased to chair and lead. Recognising that in today's technology driven global economy, rules for digital trade are essential. We are looking to deliver outcomes. Equally in domestic services regulation and recognising the increasingly crucial role the services sector plays in global trade. With all of these issues at play Appeals functions, agricultural subsidies, issues of e-technology, e-commerce and services — the WTO’s twelfth Ministerial Conference in June this year — MC12 as it’s known — is shaping up to be consequential moment. Forums such as this one are vital for building the business momentum and political will that will be needed to achieve the outcomes we see through MC12. Our countries have broad networks of trust and influence. We must marshal and where possible combine our resources to build international support for real outcomes at MC12that deliver on our shared priorities in the WTO for rules-based non-discriminatory global trade laws.

Together with Australia's New Zealand friends, we canvassed necessary outcomes from the WTO’s Ministerial Council with our regional family at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva yesterday. We particularly share a common view on the importance of concluding negotiations to limit fisheries subsidies; which not only distort outcomes in trade and economically, but also threaten the sustainability of fisheries stocks and therefore fisheries communities around the world. This outreach to our Pacific family, seeking to build a coalition of consensus for real action in MC12, is similar to efforts we have undertaken with the increasingly influential group of 10 ASEAN nations. As businesses and constituents and most direct beneficiaries of a global trading system that runs smoothly, predictably and freely, you have a defining role to play in helping us as we build those coalitions of support. Your transnational interest in supply chains in your position in global value chains afford you influence, but also demand your action. .

I urge you to use this by encouraging other governments around the world to engage productively on WTO reform and abide by WTO rules to press for open markets and free trade, and to support the compromises necessary to get meaningful outcomes at MC12.

Friends, Australia and Canada are the first come to each other's aid in times of crisis. We’re historical partners that enjoy a cultural and political affinity that few can match. And when it comes to global trade and investment we are two of the most effective advocates for open rules-based trading systems. Whether it's multilaterally cooperating with the WTO, regionally working through the CPTPP or bilaterally and growing our very deep investment ties, we have much to be proud of, but much to work on and cooperate together on. So, thank you again to our Canadian friends for joining us this week. It does mean a lot to us that through the uncertainties of coronavirus, media coverage of bushfires, that you travel here at this time. And that you can carry positive messages home to your region. But more importantly, we know this friendship is a partnership that is enduring based on values, principles and common outlook, that it is crucial for us to work together to shape on the global stage and we certainly look forward to continuing that partnership, for many, many years to come.

Thank you so much for your time today.

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