The ninth meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Australia Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) was held in Canberra on 22 March 2013 [10 Jumada Al-Ula 1434H]. The Commission was co-chaired by the Australian Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson, and the Saudi Minister for Agriculture, His Excellency Dr Fahd Abdurahman Balghunaim. Dr Balghunaim also held discussions with his Australian counterpart, Senator Joe Ludwig, on agriculture issues on 21 March.
Dr Emerson and Dr Balghunaim welcomed the friendly relations between Australia and Saudi Arabia, underpinned by substantial and long-standing economic relations. The JMC meeting, the first held since 2006, presented an important opportunity for discussions on re-invigorating and expanding trade, investment and commercial ties, including in agriculture, manufactures, education, energy and resources.
Ministers highlighted the importance of the private sector to expansion of the economic relationship. They welcomed the signing at the JMC meeting of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australia-Saudi Business Council and the Council of Saudi Chambers establishing the Saudi-Australia Joint Business Council. Ministers noted also the opportunity presented by the JMC for business-to-business engagement.
The JMC meeting was supported by four officials-level working group meetings held on 21 March and covering: trade and investment; agriculture and food security; education and training; and energy and resources.
Trade and Investment
The JMC meeting discussed ways to reinvigorate the trade relationship, noting the decline in some industries since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Australia welcomed the 36 per cent increase in Australian vehicle (mainly passenger vehicle) exports to Saudi Arabia in 2012, reversing a decline since 2008. Australia highlighted the status of Saudi Arabia as Australia's largest vehicle market globally [$775 million in CY2012].
Australia welcomed the Saudi interest in investing in Australia and discussed the scope for expanding Saudi investment in resources, tourism, infrastructure, agriculture and agri-business.
The Saudi side highlighted the investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia for Australian business, including in infrastructure, energy and mining.
Both sides agreed on the value of seminars and exchanges to showcase trade and investment opportunities.
Australia registered with Saudi Arabia, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, its strong interest in an early resumption of Australia-Gulf Cooperation Council FTA negotiations, noting that an FTA would further boost the bilateral commercial relationship, including investment. Saudi Arabia raised its interest in a Double Taxation Agreement.
Both sides noted the prospects for expanding trade in services. In addition to education, industries highlighted were construction, transport, health, banking and IT-enabled services.
Agriculture and food security
Both sides recognised the importance of agriculture in the relationship. Ministers welcomed the establishment of the Working Group on Food Security (WGFS) at this JMC meeting.
The WGFS provided an opportunity to increase mutual understanding of Australia's and Saudi Arabia's policies relating to food. It was agreed that expanding bilateral agricultural trade and investment opportunities and the sharing of information on livestock, grains, plant products and fisheries were key to food security cooperation. The prospects for Saudi Arabia investment in Australian agriculture and agri-business were also discussed. It was agreed that the WGFS hold regular discussions.
Recognising the importance of the livestock trade between Australia and Saudi Arabia, the working group provided a further opportunity to discuss the sustainable supply of livestock to Saudi Arabia while achieving high animal welfare standards. This was also a feature of discussions between Agriculture Ministers.
Saudi Arabia noted that it would welcome more bids from Australian grain suppliers for international tenders issued by Saudi Arabia.
Education and Training
Both parties welcomed the growth in education links over the past decade, particularly the strong increase in the numbers of Saudi students studying in Australia. Both sides also noted the extension of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program for a further five years and looked forward to more exchanges of students and academics between Saudi Arabia and Australia. Australia highlighted its expertise in the provision of high-quality vocational training. Both sides discussed greater cooperation between Saudi and Australian educational and training institutions.
Energy and Resources
Australia highlighted its expertise in renewable energy and mining and the scope for greater cooperation in these fields. Australia noted the significant work undertaken by Saudi Arabia in King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and encouraged future Saudi interest and investment in Australia's clean energy sector, particularly in emerging technologies.
Australia emphasised its commitment to best practice in the resources sector and agreed to promote further collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia conveyed its interest in greater Australian investment in energy and mining.
Ministers also discussed at the JMC broader international trade and economic issues, including priorities for the G20.
Ministers agreed to hold the next session of the Joint Ministerial Commission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a date to be agreed through diplomatic channels.
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