Thank you for inviting me to this very important conference.
It's a crucial time for all of the countries of the region and, indeed, of
the world. We've had now two days of talks at the APEC Ministerial Meeting
and I can convey to you a sense of optimism amongst Ministers for Trade and
Foreign Affairs that we will do everything we possibly can in the year 2011
to open up the region and the world to increased trade.
This, we hope and expect, will occur through restarting the negotiations on
the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations that began all the way
back in 2001. And here we are in 2010 and hoping and expecting that there
will be a big effort in 2011.
And I suppose everyone in this room would have a sense of fatigue about
how long this particular round of trade negotiations has been going. It is
a long round. And there must be some danger that if we don't complete the
round in 2011, then, in 2012 there will be a number of elections right
around the world amongst key participants in the Doha Round of
negotiations. And we know from experience that elections can stop
negotiations. Then we would have to restart again in 2013.
That may be possible but there is a risk that fatigue will have fully set
in and that major countries may then say 'we can't go any further on this'.
That's why ministers have agreed at the APEC Ministerial Meeting to push as
hard as possible for a completion of the negotiations in 2011. And we have
our leaders coming behind us so we have prepared some text and some ground
and we hope that they will affirm at the Leaders' level the importance of
this so-called window of opportunity.
The reason that I have raised this with you is that it is small and medium
enterprises, in many senses, that suffer most from restrictions on trade.
What we do know about small and medium enterprises is that they are usually
heavily-exposed to competition. They grow from very small seeds – which I
think is the theme of the summit here today – into medium and larger
enterprises. But in most countries, maybe all countries, there's no
protection for them as they are growing. The chill winds of competition are
blowing the whole time. And yet so many small businesses are able to
survive through those difficulties.
We know, therefore, that our small business community tends to be tough and
resilient. But when it has obstacles placed in front of it in the form of
high tariff barriers or quantitative restrictions or, increasingly around
the world, the impediments that exist within domestic economies behind the
borders, those burdens are much heavier on small business than on large
multinational corporations which have specialised departments and the
resources to deal with them.
I was, until recently, the Australian Small Business Minister and in our
country we have set out to remove as many of those impediments for small
business growth and development as possible. I have, personally, a
philosophical view that in many ways the best thing a government can do for
small business is to get out of the way: to allow small businesses to grow
from those seeds, to survive against the chilly winds of competition, but
without a government making life harder for them.
And that means – where there are government-imposed impediments in the form
of unnecessary regulations or very complex regulations and rules – then
it's the obligation of governments to simplify those rules or remove them
if they perform no necessary or valuable function.
And so in our own country, where we have a single nation but eight
different states or territories – or provinces or regions – each with their
own rules and regulations, in many ways the Australian economy has not been
one market but eight markets. And small businesses then have to comply with
up to eight different sets of rules and regulations. Big companies: not so
hard. Small businesses: very hard.
So we've been doing simple reforms such as, when a small business does grow
from a seed, it has to name itself. Perhaps it would name itself 'Acorn'
as it begins to grow. But in our country, it would have to name itself
'Acorn' eight times, in eight different states and territories. We've come
up with a very simple idea: name yourself 'Acorn' once, and then that would
be good in all the different states and territories.
Now we are a relatively advanced country. If these problems exist in
Australia, they certainly would exist in other countries around the world.
And so that is just one example of what we are trying to do to create what
we call a seamless national economy – a single national market. But isn't
it also true for APEC, as an aspiration for the 21 countries, that APEC
becomes a seamless regional economy; where again, we remove as many of the
impediments for small business growth and development within our entire
That doesn't mean in APEC we're a single country. It means that we are, as
an aspiration, a seamless regional market. Now that has to be good news
for small business. And I can assure you that this is something that has
progressed beyond the idea – or the ideal – into concrete measures that are
being taken by members of the APEC community.
Because, really, when we do our first job as Trade Ministers, we're
improving market access. But there's no point improving market access if
these behind-the-border restrictions are so great.
So APEC leaders will be invited over the weekend to consider the APEC New
Strategy for Structural Reform, where APEC economies will be encouraged,
and will be supported, in simplifying their regulations that affect all
businesses but in particular these small and medium businesses.
Each APEC economy will be asked to set forth priorities for structural
reform in the various areas, along with the policies and measures to make
progress towards them. Not in the never-never but by 2015. And we have
long supported the idea of having a tangible target to which we can work.
Another aspect of our pro-SME productivity agenda as APEC ministers is
improving the ability of all businesses, including small and medium
enterprises, to quickly and efficiently move their goods and services
within and across the APEC community of 21 economies.
You know that the benefits arising from that could be absolutely enormous.
A 10 per cent efficiency gain in connecting supply chains across borders
would lift APEC's real GDP by an estimated US$21 billion a year. And, of
course, in the process, generate thousands of jobs.
And that's why APEC leaders adopted a Supply Chain Connectivity Framework
last year, in 2009. That framework identifies choke points that impede the
flow of goods and services throughout the APEC region. And it actually
proposes specific actions to address those choke points by tackling the
lack of coordination amongst government agencies involved in transport and
logistics, by dealing with burdensome customs procedures and unnecessary
variations in cross-border standards and regulations.
So this Supply Chain Connectivity Framework is action-oriented. Our own
country, Australia, is leading work in APEC on one of the action plans
under that framework to improve inadequate transport infrastructure in the
region, with a focus on the land-side transport management of sea-freight
So I hope in the time that I've been able to address you I've been able to
convey to you the understanding of APEC members of the challenges of small
businesses – that they are particularly disadvantaged by these regulations
behind borders. And that APEC itself is committed to a specific work
program to easing those impediments, throwing them out of the way, where
they serve no useful purpose. So I think the future for APEC and for small
and medium enterprises in the APEC economies is a bright one.
Thank you very much.
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