Launch of 'Asia's Infrastructure in the Crisis - Harnessing Private Enterprise'

Address by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, The Hon Tim Fischer MP, at the launch of the East Asia Analytical Unit's Report 'Asia's Infrastructure in the Crisis - Harnessing Private Enterprise'
Hotel Intercontinental, Sydney, 3 December 1998

(Check against delivery)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to launch yet another insightful report by the East Asia Analytical Unit (EAAU) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This report, entitled Asia's Infrastructure in the Crisis - Harnessing Private Enterprise, is the EAAU's twentieth report on major economic developments of concern to Australian exporters and investors in East Asia since the Unit was established six years ago.

As you would all know only too well, the Asian crisis has now entered its second year, and Australian trade and investment efforts in a number of regional economies have been seriously affected.

Nevertheless, Australia's overall trade has stood up extremely well, growing 3 per cent in the first ten months of this year.

This export growth in the face of considerable adversity reflects in large part astute market diversification by Australian exporters. Such flexibility depends upon exporters having access to the latest market intelligence and to high quality analysis about developments in the region.

While market diversification has helped Australian exporters to overcome the worst of the crisis, it is also vital that we do not lose sight of the undeniable long-term potential of the Asian region.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the region's infrastructure market. Although forecasts of infrastructure demand in Asia are being downgraded as a result of the crisis, investment in this sector over the next decade will still be around US$1 trillion, or US$100 billion per annum. At least half of this infrastructure will be installed in China.

As regional economies emerge from the crisis, this massive demand will present significant opportunities for Australian infrastructure businesses, related equipment suppliers and consultants.

In addition, countries such as Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines are recognising the urgent need to improve the efficiency of government-provided infrastructure services and are preparing major sectoral reforms, including privatisation of publicly owned utilities.

This is why the East Asia Analytical Unit's report is so timely. It analyses the role private enterprise can play in providing the region's infrastructure and the reforms regional economies must undertake to draw private investors back into the region in the wake of the crisis.

It also highlights the significant opportunities emerging for Australian business from these developments. Already major Australian infrastructure firms are capitalising on these opportunities, companies such as Leighton Asia, BHP Power, Transfield and P&O Ports.

In addition, Australian financial institutions such as ANZ Investment Bank, AMP, National Mutual and Macquarie Bank are providing sophisticated financial services to project sponsors. Australian legal, accounting and engineering firms such as Allen Allen & Hemsley and Pacific Power are providing specialist advice, in the process contributing to our expanding services exports.

For its part, the Australian Government recognises the immense potential of Asia's private infrastructure market. That is why it is supporting the efforts of Australian business through the Market Development Task Force. This is a whole-of-government approach to securing bilateral trade and investment outcomes within tightly focused timeframes, and infrastructure is targeted as an MDTF priority sector in a number of key Asian markets.

In addition, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation is providing the sovereign risk and credit insurance for Australian infrastructure investors and equipment exporters in the region.

And Austrade is assisting exporters and investors with opportunity identification, market intelligence, and on-the-ground support and advice.

The work of the East Asian Analytical Unit complements these efforts and provides a vital analytical framework for Australian businesses seeking to understand developments in our region.

I would like to congratulate the Unit for the quality of this report. I would also like to recognise Tasman Asia Pacific and Managing Director Dr Michael Porter who collaborated on its production, and acknowledge the financial contributions made by AusAID and the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, this report constitutes a significant contribution to our understanding of the private infrastructure developments in Asia, the opportunities for Australian business and implications for the Australian government. I commend it to you, and wish you well with your seminar this morning.

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