AustCham Westpac Australia-China Business Awards

  • Speech, check against delivery

It's a pleasure to be here in Shanghai tonight for the Westpac Australia-China Business awards.

This is now my fourth official visit to Shanghai, and my 13th official visit to China.

I'm pleased to say it will not be my only visit this year.

In November I will be back to lead the Australian delegation to the China International Import Expo, or CIIE.

I was delighted to accept the invitation to CIIE from my Chinese counterpart, Commerce Minister Zhong Shan.

It is a mark of our close economic relationship that Australia was the first of any country to be invited to CIIE.

CIIE will be a major global event and represents the desire by China to promote international trade and give Chinese people access to the best goods and services the world has to offer. CIIE delivers on President Xi's commitment to open the Chinese economy to the world, both for goods, and importantly, for investment.

It's fitting Shanghai will be the destination for CIIE as this city has always played a crucial role in China's trade and investment story.

We are here tonight to recognise the great success Australian and Chinese businesses are having in China, but first we should recognise the great success of the Australia-China relationship overall.

Australia and China have been friends for decades and in 2015 our friendship became something more – it became a partnership.

The China Australia Free Trade Agreement is more than just an agreement to reduce tariffs and facilitate investment.

It is an agreement to work together in partnership to create more prosperity for both of our peoples. Australia and China both know that two countries trading together is win-win.

Protectionists claim that opening our markets to more trade is not good for our economy. These claims are plain wrong. They ignore the benefits of our partnership; and are not supported by the facts. The worst aspect of these claims is that they are lazy.

The good news is that we can look at trade and investment flows to discern what is really happening. Contrary to scare campaigns, Chinese investment in Australia is modest, while we are now seeing stronger Australian investment into China, and we would like more. Likewise, our trade flows see Australian and Chinese citizens both enriched from our relationship, with prosperity being boosted for both countries.

Australians are not making gains at the expense of Chinese, and Chinese are not making gains at the expense of Australians. Speaking plainly, our partnership is benefitting both sides and making Australians and Chinese richer together.

The China Australia Free Trade Agreement is a standout agreement in the region – a deal that is truly opening up new markets and lowering trade barriers; a genuinely reforming driver of growth in both our countries.

I'd like to particularly acknowledge the role of our now Ambassador to China, Her Excellency Jan Adams, in concluding and overseeing the implementation of this landmark partnership agreement. Australia and China came to this partnership with each of us having had an impressive track record in driving prosperity through trade.

Australia today is enjoying our 27th year of continuous economic growth. And it's been shared prosperity – real median incomes in Australia grew 51 per cent over the past two decades.

China's bold economic reforms and commitment to openness has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. As I said earlier this year, this is not just an economic miracle. China is today one of the true global giants.

Australia continues to welcome China's rise and growth because we know it is good for our partnership and good for our people.

Our relationship is mature, broad, and anchored in respect for our respective histories and world view. A comprehensive commitment to ongoing dialogue is critical to maximising the benefits that flow to us both from our partnership.

That is not to say there won't be occasions when we may differ in our views of events and implications. Indeed, in all of Australia's relationships, we have our differences from time to time and we manage these with respect, and in the context of a positive, mutually beneficial relationship.

While the China Australia Free Trade Agreement broke new ground in establishing a framework for our contemporary partnership, it has proved to be only the beginning of closer collaborations between our two governments.

After an agreement between Prime Minister Turnbull and President Xi, 2017 was declared the China Australia Year of Tourism. It is fitting that China has now overtaken New Zealand as our largest tourism partnership.

Australia now has more visitors from China than from any other country. This is an exciting development in our relationship. Australians, too, are travelling to China like never before, with the number of Australians visiting here growing by 15.5 per cent last year – the highest growth rate among our top 10 destination markets. The more visitors we have to each other's countries, the better.

In 2016 Australia and China negotiated an open capacity air services agreement – the most liberal such agreement China has ever concluded. There are now nearly 200 flights per week linking 16 cities in mainland China to six airports in Australia.

One year ago last week I travelled to Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum, to ensure the Australian Government engaged constructively and collaboratively with China on the landmark Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI.

Australia and China share the common goal of improving infrastructure in the region and Australia welcomes the contribution BRI can make to regional infrastructure.

There is opportunity for Australian businesses to be involved in BRI projects both here in China and in third countries. Indeed, at the end of last year I was pleased to sign an MOU between the Australian and Chinese Government agreeing to cooperate between us on BRI initiatives in third countries.

The Australian Government is working to identify and facilitate access to commercial opportunities resulting from BRI. Australia can bring much to the table. We have a rich history of understanding infrastructure projects - of project design, construction, management, and maintenance, as well as financing. We are looking forward to working on such projects where they are in the national interest of both our countries.

On a separate note, I wanted to commend the AustCham network's leadership in working with local authorities to explore opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, which embraces Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong Province.

With a total population of around 67 million people and a combined GDP of over US$1.3 trillion, the Greater Bay Area initiative presents many opportunities in areas such as infrastructure, professional services and innovation, where Australia has real capability to offer.

I am hopeful, too, that the Australia – China Co Production Treaty may soon be upgraded to include television, after the success of a number of film co-productions between Australian and Chinese filmmakers.

These collaborations represent the closeness in our partnership.

President Xi Jinping's speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos last year was one that the world noticed.

I particularly remember President Xi said,

"One should not just retreat to the harbour when encountering a storm, for this will never get us to the other shore of the ocean."

For the partnership between Australia and China, if we find ourselves in choppy waters, we should bring our boats together and help each other to find a way to the other shore, avoiding the storm.

Australia and China are important to each other.

When we put our energies into realising the full potential our partnership can bring, there is no limit to what we can achieve together.

I know each of you here tonight are experiencing this in your own businesses.

The success of the partnership between Australia and China is, of course, not just a story of two governments working together.

I'm conscious that, in many ways, the heart of this relationship lies in the people-to-people links between our two nations; and business is a major part of that story.

And so I acknowledge and pay tribute to the three Australian Chambers – AustCham Beijing, AustCham Shanghai and AustCham Hong Kong – who collaborate so effectively to promote Australian business in China.

The Australia China Business Awards, or ACBAs, we are celebrating tonight are now in their 25th year – which is a major achievement in the context now of 45 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and China.

The breadth and maturity of the economic relationship is reflected in the diversity in the award nominees tonight: wine exporters, a football club and a tennis association, project management and construction companies, lawyers, miners, textiles companies – even a high school.

The success you have all had will encourage the next generation of Chinese businesses to think about trading with Australians and investing in Australia.

The trust and confidence that you have with your business partners is integral to the partnership between our two countries.

If you look at the finalists here tonight, behind every business being considered for an award is an idea from an individual with vision.

Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, for example, would not have come into existence in 2017 but for the realisation by the Wagner family that there was a key connectivity gap between Australian food producers and Asian markets.

Now they have weekly flights to Hong Kong – with huge potential for new services in the years ahead.

Or consider Port Adelaide's insight into the links between business and sport – that sport is a unique and positive way to forge new business ties and relationships, as the club did when hosting its first match here in Shanghai with the Gold Coast Suns last year.

I'm looking forward to Saturday's rematch, again here in Shanghai.

Being from the Gold Coast, you'll forgive me for saying that I'm backing the Gold Coast Suns for a win.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight is a celebration of success – the success of the partnership between Australia and China; and the success of your businesses.

Congratulations to all of the finalists. I wish you the best of luck.

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